Pitt plunges into Big East Conference play

| Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011

Ready or not, the games start counting for real for Pitt.

After a head-shaking, 59-54 loss to visiting Wagner last week, the No. 22 Panthers travel to meet Notre Dame (8-5) Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion in the Big East opener for both teams

"They will have a little edge about them," ND coach Mike Brey said. "But we have a little edge, too. We're not real happy where we're at."

Pitt (11-2), which has lost three in a row to Notre Dame, brings little momentum into league play as it tries to defend its 2010-11 regular-season title.

Ashton Gibbs, the conference's preseason player of the year, is frigid the past two weeks.

Nasir Robinson has more turnovers than field goals in the past three games, and center Dante Taylor hasn't converted a free throw since early December.

Lamar Patterson made one basket in 34 minutes against Wagner (1 for 9), and injured point guard Tray Woodall remains sidelined.

Now, Pitt will try to snap Notre Dame's 27-game home winning streak in a building where the Panthers haven't won in more than five years and only twice since 1998, going 2-7 during that span. Notre Dame is 39-5 at home against Big East teams in the past five-plus seasons.

"We know what we need to improve on and what we've got to do," coach Jamie Dixon said.

Woodall, who has missed the past six games with groin and abdomen injuries, did a "little up and down in a five on five" drill on a Christmas day practice, according to Dixon, but the junior is doubtful for tonight's game.

"We're trying to figure out where Travon is and what's going on with that," Dixon said.

Notre Dame has dealt with its own injury issues this season, losing All-Big East senior forward Tim Abromaitis to a torn ACL on Nov. 25.

The Irish lost to Missouri by 29 and Gonzaga by 20 in November blowouts, but routed Sacred Heart, 106-65, on Monday. The Irish have balanced scoring; they are the only Division I school to have at least six players with a 20-point game this season.

Gibbs, who is playing point guard in Woodall's absence, is 14 of 43 from the field, including 4 for 22 from 3-point range (.182) in the past three games. Gibbs had one assist and four turnovers against Wagner, Pitt's first loss to an NEC school in 71 tries.

Pitt, a top-five team in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage for most of the season, is 9 for 49 from behind the arc in the past three games.

"We've got to have the ability to find guys," Dixon said. "We have to have more patience offensively."

In its last meeting with Pitt, Notre Dame was as patient as possible. The Irish used their "burn" offense to upset the No. 2 Panthers, 56-51, at Petersen Events Center. The Irish "burned" the shot clock and scored 37 points with fewer than 11 seconds remaining on the shot clock. They didn't use the burn offense much in the nonconference schedule.

"We're still trying to develop an offensive identity and trying to be more aggressive," Brey said. "Burning takes your foot off the gas. But it's something we always have in our arsenal."

Panthers gameday


When/where: 7 p.m. Tuesday/Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, Ind.

On air: ESPN2/KDKA-FM (93.7)

Series: Notre Dame leads, 29-27

Records: Pitt 11-2, 0-0 Big East; Notre Dame 8-5, 0-0.

Line: Pitt by 1

Of note: Pitt is shooting 18.4 percent (9 for 49) from 3-point range in its past three games.

Players to watch

Pitt: Dante Taylor, Jr., C — Shooting 10 of 14 from the floor with 13 rebounds in past two games.

Notre Dame: Jerian Grant, R-Fr., G — The 6-foot-5 DeMatha (Md.) product leads the Irish in points (165), assists (57) and steals (16)

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