25 February 2011
The local media loves the whole "Pitt-can't-because-they-don't-have-a-star" refrain. It's the go-to topic on talk radio, mostly by hosts who would rather discuss the Steelers in late February than Panthers basketball. Who knows; maybe they're right. Maybe Pitt does need that star player to get to the "next level."
But Pitt doesn't have that. They have a deep and balanced team. So when injuries happen, even to a top reserve, it's no time to panic:
Pitt forward Talib Zanna will miss 3-6 weeks with a right thumb injury.
Zanna, a 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman, injured the thumb today in an accident off campus. He will have surgery Friday.
That's the season for Zanna. But on a Jamie Dixon team, an injury just means that it's someone else's turn to step up:
Taking advantage of additional playing time, reserve Lamar Patterson scored a career-best 11 points to help the Panthers (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) to an easy 71-58 win on Thursday night.
"It felt real good," Patterson said. "In practice, I've been playing pretty good, so it felt good to go out on the court and finally put something together."
Patterson was seemingly everywhere for the Panthers. Inside getting boards. Cutting to the hoop. Setting up his teammates (5 assists).
Watching him is odd. He's not the best scorer, nor athlete, nor does he have elite size or strength. Rather, he's like having a second point guard at the small forward position.
So, the exact opposite of Gilbert Brown.
Brown, for his elite athleticism, still struggles with consistency. Not to the degree he did last year, which was a "it would be funny if it wasn't so infuriating" kind of way, but in subtler ways this season. Examples include not knowing the shot clock only had eight seconds remaining on an in-bounds play in the first half, and of course, his technical after he fouled out. I keep thinking back to the "All-Access" program on ESPNU when Dixon is yelling at him in practice, "YOU'RE A SENIOR GIL! YOU HAVE TO LEAD!" Things like not knowing the shot clock on an in-bounds and getting a tech after already being booted from the floor is not senior leadership. Barring some tournament heroics, these are the things we're going to remember about Gil. And that's a shame because he's unquestionably the best athlete on the team.
But even I can't be too hard on a guy who tied for second in scoring against the hated Mountaineers. Gilbert, Wanamaker and Patterson all put up 11. Wanamaker struggled shooting the ball, but had an unbelievable eight assists to only one turnover (aside: Wanamaker is +80 in assists-to-turnovers on the season. +80. That's insane. He's quietly having an absolutely spectacular season).
It was also a tough night for Gibbs, who was covered by a West Virginia defense that was absolutely focused on making sure he had a hand in his face at all times. For once, Gibbs brought down Pitt's shooting percentage - but only because the rest of the team shot so well. Pitt finished at 57% from the floor.
It was a win against a rival and it was good. The win also ties Jamie Dixon with Roy Williams and Case Everett for most wins in his first eight seasons as head coach. Here's hoping the Panthers can win one more this season....
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