By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pitt men’s basketball team could get a boost for its game against No. 6 West Virginia Wednesday night at 7 at the Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va., as senior guard Jermaine Dixon is expected to return after a one-game absence.
Jermaine Dixon practiced Tuesday, the first time since he sprained his right ankle — the same foot he broke twice before the season began — early in the second half against St. John’s at home. Pittsburgh played without Dixon Sunday and lost at South Florida, the Panthers’ third in four games.
Jermaine Dixon practiced Tuesday and is expected to play at WVU Wednesday night at 7 at the WVU Coliseum.
“In our Conference, you have to play well every night, and you’ve got to play even better on the road to get a win,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “So, that’s what we’ve got to do. In the last game, we didn’t turn the ball over and defended better. And when you look at the numbers, we did that, we held them to under 40 percent (shooting).
“But at the end of the day, we didn’t out-rebound them, and that was the difference. We know West Virginia is a very good team, and we obviously have to rebound better. That was our emphasis after the last game, because we got out-rebounded. We really believed that we needed to go down there and rebound well, and we didn’t.”
If Jermaine Dixon can’t play, that means more minutes for redshirt freshman point guard Travon Woodall and senior guard Chase Adams. They each missed a shot and did not score. Woodall fouled out after 17 minutes, while Adams played 11. Neither had an assist, either, while Woodall had one turnover and Adams had two. So, it wasn’t good and not even close to filling in for Dixon.
“With injuries and foul trouble it’s difficult to figure out,” Coach Dixon said. “(But) we’ve got the guys, so all we need to do is play better.”
Pitt will be tested in the second half of the Big East schedule with two games in 10 days against the Mountaineers, getting a return engagement Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center, and home games with Seton Hall Saturday at 6 p.m. and Robert Morris Monday at 8.
The final six Big East regular-season games for Pitt could be even more difficult, but Coach Dixon and the Panthers are concentrating on the first one with WVU. And the toughest matchup on the Mountaineers is Da’Sean Butler, who leads with 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
“He’s very talented, and we know a lot about him,” Coach Dixon said. “We recruited him out of high school, and he was on the USA team that we practiced and played against over the summer. So, I spent a couple weeks with him there when he was on the under-23 team.
“He’s played a lot of minutes. These guys are older, but they’re experienced. They’ve played a lot of minutes. They all have started and played major minutes as freshmen and sophomores, and Butler can really do things off the dribble. He can catch-and-shoot and rebound. He’s very versatile.”
Pitt junior guard Bradley Wanamaker expanded on that.
“He’s one of the best players in the NCAA this year, so just we have to try to contain him,” Wanamaker said. “He’s very versatile, moving to the point guard, at times, so we have to play tight on him and force other guys to make plays.”
Coach Dixon again noted that rebounding will be the key against WVU, and junior center Gary McGhee believed a team effort was needed to be successful.
“They’re pretty much a perimeter-oriented team, so there are going to be a lot of long rebounds,” McGhee said. “So, we really need to box out and chase down the long rebounds. That’s the key against them, controlling the long rebounds.
“There’s no way to practice for it. You just have to use all your energy to chase them down, because they go everywhere. So, it’s going to be a team effort. It can’t be just one person getting rebounds. It needs to be the whole team.”
“We take that real personal, every time we get out-rebounded in a game,” McGhee added. “We consider ourselves to be one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East, and we look to out-rebound a team by big numbers on the boards. So, that’s what we’re looking forward to in this game.”
Wanamaker offered some thoughts on the topic as well.
“They’re big and long, probably the best offensive-rebounding team that we’ll face this year,” Wanamaker said. “So, we’ve just got to put a body on them, knock them off-track and grab the rebounds. (And) anytime we lose the rebounding battle, and definitely when we lose a game, we come out hungrier than before. We get after it a lot more.
“Guys are throwing each other around, and it’s just something that we have to do. It was real tough (Tuesday). We really were going after it. There was a lot of grabbing, and the Coach wasn’t calling fouls. In a game, when you look for a foul, that takes away from your game. So, we’ve got to learn to play through it just like we do in practice.”
One thing in Pitt’s favor is that WVU is a rival, the Backyard Brawl and all, so being keyed up for the Mountaineers could be an advantage, McGhee said.
“Sure, it can be something good, playing a team that we have a lot of history with, our rival, the Backyard Brawl,” McGhee said. “So, it’s a big game every year. We look forward to it, and it can be a game where we get back on track. (But) we’re going into a hostile environment.
“It’s pretty difficult to play there. Their fans are loud, but it really gets our adrenaline going. So, it can be good for us. When I first played there, I saw the guy with the gun and just laughed at him. But when I heard the gun shot, I kind of jumped a little bit. I’m OK now, but it’s real different down there.”
But it’s certainly something the Panthers are used to by now.