Pitt Drowned By the Aztecs
By: Roger SinClair
Tuesday night’s game against San Diego State was a tough loss for the Pitt Panthers with a surprising score line of 74-57. Leading the Aztecs in scoring was Freshman Trey Kell with 15 points, with James Robinson leading the Pitt with 17 points. This was the Panthers first top-25 opponent of the season and there was some optimism that the team could make some noise in their first appearance in the Maui Invitational.
The first surprise of the night was the absence of Joseph Uchebo from the starting lineup. Coach Jamie Dixon had included the Uchebo in his starting lineup early on in the season, however Uchebo saw little action in the starts he did receive. Right from tipoff, Pitt played a zone defense in hopes of forcing San Diego State to take jumpers and longer perimeter shots. This was a surprising game plan, especially given Jamie Dixon’s heavy use of a man-coverage system in seasons past. Unfortunately, the new tactic did not pay off as Steve Fisher’s team shot 58.7% from the field and had little trouble scoring the entire night. Playing the zone looked uncomfortable to Pitt, with periods of confusion in transition where three or four Panthers were standing in the paint ball watching.
Offensively, the Panthers could not get anything together against San Diego State’s impressive man-coverage defense. The team lacked creativity in their passing and could not get any penetration into the paint. Most of the passing was done outside the three-point line and there were numerous instances where shots were taken hastily. There were 3 shot clock violations in the game for Pitt and countless other times where shots were thrown up to avoid double zeroes on the shot clock. The bottom line was no one could get remotely close to the basket for any high percentage shots, forcing players to take ill-advised shots. The Panthers finished the game shooting 37.7% from the field.
This game wasn’t lost due to a lack of motivation or effort. The Panthers outshot and outrebounded the Aztecs by double digits in both categories. Unfortunately they were much less efficient the entire night and also turned the ball over 17 times, which will never bode well. Forward Mike Young had a somewhat disappointing game, only scoring 8 points and 7 rebounds. These stats appear pedestrian in comparison to his last game against Chaminade, where Young scored a career-high 27 points and 15 rebounds. Derrick Randall also fell back to earth after a tournament-record 21 rebounds last game. Randall was largely ineffective the entire night, only scoring 2 points and collecting 2 boards.
With Cam Wright and Durand Johnson out with injury and a suspension, respectively, the Panthers lacked a dominant scorer. While Mike Young has shown flashes of productivity, he had a very average night after appearing to tweak his ankle late in the first half. James Robinson played inspired basketball the entire night, but it was too much to ask of him to lead a comeback against the 15th ranked team in the nation when no other Panthers could get their shots to land. It seems that until Cam Wright returns, the Panthers will be stuck in limbo trying to find someone who can consistently step up and deliver game after game.
Pitt wraps up its trip to Hawaii on Wednesday against Kansas State, who lost a close game to Arizona earlier Tuesday night. Less than a week later, the Panthers head to Bloomington to take on Indiana, another top-flight opponent.