PITT OPENS BIG EAST WITH WIN OVER UCONN
The 2010-2011 Big East regular season got underway on Monday night in Pittsburgh as No. 4 Connecticut tried to do what seven teams previously ranked in the top-5 failed to do before them - come into the Peterson Events Center and emerge with a victory. Pittsburgh was having none of that as the Panthers, ranked No. 6 in the country themselves, never trailed en route to a 78-63 win over the Huskies.
"We allowed a team, a very good team by the way, who plays very good defense to take us out of a lot of things that we did," Jim Calhoun said afterwards. "We lost some of the swagger that we needed to have to win the game.”
The Panthers, energized by a standing-room only crowd of 12,725, came out smoking with a 16-7 lead before the game was five minutes old, highlighted by a Gilbert Brown alley-oop slam off a pass in transition by fellow senior Brad Wanamaker. Six different players scored for Jamie Dixon's team in the opening five minutes and once the game settled down, it was the Pitt defense that took over the contest.
"First thing, I want to compliment Jamie," said Calhoun. "He had his team ready defensively and that’s what started it. I thought they just locked us up defensively. We aren’t a young team, but they made us make young plays."
The Huskies managed to connect on just 31.7% of their shots for the game and suffered through a 7:30 stretch in the second-half without a field goal.
With his young teammates struggling in what was their first Big East contest for many of them, Kemba Walker tried in vain to keep pace with the balanced Panthers. Walker, who entered the contest leading the NCAA in scoring with 26.5 points a game, scored 31 points and his personal 8-0 run over 1:59 cut a 15-point deficit to just seven, 62-55, with 5:29 left.
Walker would not score again and the Panthers answered the challenge with an 11-4 run and a pair of Travon Woodall free throws with 2:16 left capped the run, securing Pitt's 17th straight home victory, improving to 8-0 all-time at the Peterson Events Center against top-5 teams and their fourth win in the last five meetings with UConn.
"I thought we executed very well on both ends of the floor, and I really liked that we took good shots," said Jamie Dixon.
Pitt shot 52% from the field (25-48) and registered 19 assists on their 25 made field goals in the game. Ashton Gibbs led the way with 21 points and 7 assists while Brad Wanamaker added 14. The Panthers' starting frontcourt of Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson also stood tall against the opposition.
"We moved the ball well and got our big guys some inside touches when they were in good position to really attack the basket," said Dixon. "I thought we were able to take better shots than they did on the interior, which is excellent because UConn has a very good post offense."
McGhee finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks while Robinson, making his first start of the season, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists.
"He brings energy to the floor and he’s got that motor in him and it helps getting him on the floor early," said Gibbs of Robinson. "He’s real aggressive and he grabs a lot of rebounds."
Despite scoring 31 points, Kemba Walker had to work constantly for his opportunities. Before his individual run made things interesting, the UConn guard was just five of 18 from the field. He finished 10 of 27 in the game and was the only Husky in double figures.
"Kemba Walker is going to score, we just need to make him take tough shots,” said Dixon.
Walker made tough shots, but also forced some too as Pitt gave him some extra attention defensively, possibly a blueprint for other teams to follow ahead on the schedule.
“He made some tough shots and took the ball to the basket," said Wanamaker. "He’s a great player, but I thought we gave a good overall team effort on defense.”
The Panthers now have eight days to bask in the glow of starting conference play with a win over UConn. Pitt returns to action on Jan. 4 with a date at Providence, and they will look to improve upon the impressive showing.
"“It’s great for us," Wanamker said of beating UConn. "They’re a good team that’s playing good basketball and it shows us where we are and how we can improve.”
It's on. The 2010-2011 BIG EAST season is off and running!
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