Pitt struggles against stout Virginia defense
By: Andrew Ziemba
All good things must come to an end at some point, and Pitt’s nice winning record through a tough portion of the ACC schedule was no exception last night.
Minus the road loss to No. 9 Louisville last Wednesday, the Panthers (17-10, 6-7 ACC) beat ranked opponents Notre Dame (No. 8) and North Carolina (No. 12), as well as developing rival Syracuse. They have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with within the confines of the Petersen Events Center, but their road performance, especially in the ACC, has been abysmal this season.
The outing in Charlottesville on Monday night, however, was by far the worst for Jamie Dixon’s team, who were held to just 49 points throughout the entire game, and only scored 15 of those in the first half. Granted, No. 2 Virginia (24-1, 12-1 ACC) is the best defensive team in the country by a long shot, but the Cavaliers did not have to perform at their peak to beat Pitt Monday night.
The Panthers have really come into their own as a team in the past month, but whatever has been working for them was not present when they came out last night. Sophomore forward Jamel Artis was the lone bright spot for the team in this game, recording 20 points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes of play. The problem was, only Sheldon Jeter recorded double-digit points for Pitt, scoring just 10. The Panthers’ woes most certainly came from their horrid shooting performance, making just 38.6% of their field goal attempts and a lackluster 52.9% from the free throw line. It has been no secret this season that Pitt would need to improve their shooting to become a solid team, and for the better part of the last month, it seemed that the team had truly found their collective stroke.
The Cavs seemed to have the Panther game plan figured out, however, as other players not mentioned above, such as senior star Cameron Wright, did not take more than six shots in the game. Give credit where credit is due, though, because Virginia did play a solid game offensively, especially in the second half. Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon took over the game for the Cavaliers, and finished with 18 points on 50% shooting.
The best the Panthers can hope to do now is just put this loss behind them and prepare for their trip up to the Carrier Dome this Saturday for round two against the Syracuse Orange. The Dome, like the Petersen Events Center, is not an easy place for opposing teams to come in and win, so Pitt will have to be sharp.
Pitt finishes off the regular season with four games against the middle-to-lower section of the ACC, with games against Boston College and Miami at home, and trips to Wake Forest and Florida State to warm them up for the ACC Tournament. Barring any drastic or catastrophic collapse, the Panthers do look to be in decent position heading into the postseason.