Pitt using CBI as motivation

| Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pitt will learn in the next two weeks if the CBI was money well spent.

Seven of Pitt's 11 scholarship players are freshmen or sophomores, and the postseason experience and extra practices will provide the young squad a chance to get a head start on next season.

"Given our youth, this event is important to us," coach Jamie Dixon said. "There are so many things we can improve on, and that's what we're trying to do."

Pitt (17-16), which will host Wofford (19-13) at 7 tonight at Petersen Events Center, is the biggest first-round favorite (13.5 points) in the fifth-year, 16-team tournament.

The winner will play Princeton or Evansville in the quarterfinals Monday. The top half of the bracket includes Butler, which stunned the No. 1 seeded Panthers in last season's NCAA Tournament heartbreaker, and Penn, which Pitt beat in late November when the 2011-12 season still held some promise.

While the CBI will mark the final games for seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson, it also is a stepping stone for players who will be key to rebounding next season.

Two of those underclassmen, freshman center Malcolm Gilbert and sophomore forward J.J. Moore, said the distaste of seeing the program's 10-year run in the NCAA Tournament -- and a season that wasn't even good enough to land an NIT bid -- will serve as extra motivation to avoid any future third-tier tournaments.

"It's definitely a humbling feeling, and it's making us work harder," Gilbert said. "We are going to use this as fuel for next year."

Added Moore: "We fell short this year. Next year, we feel like we are going to go out there and play harder because we don't want the same reaction that we had this year."

It remains to be seen how Dixon will allocate playing time in the CBI, whether he will boost the minutes of players such as freshman guard John Johnson, sophomore Talib Zanna, Moore and Gilbert.

Robinson (knee) missed another practice this week and junior point guard Tray Woodall (groin/abdomen) still isn't 100 percent.

"We'll see how things play out," Dixon said. "I don't think playing time has been decided now. We need to get our best team on the floor."

As for Woodall: "His situation isn't going to change too much," Dixon said.

Wofford nearly upset Pitt two years ago in the 2009-10 opener, leading by 13 points in the second half and 54-45 with under six minutes to play. But the Panthers rallied for a 63-60 victory behind Brad Wanamaker (15 points) and then-freshman Dante Taylor (13 points, five rebounds).

"They gave us a scare in that game, so we know how good of a program they are," Dixon said. "They are sound and well-coached. We need to be ready to go."

Wofford, a 1,500-student liberal arts school in Spartanburg, S.C., went 12-6 in the Southern Conference and finished second in the Southern Division behind NCAA-bound Davidson. Coach Mike Young's team ranked first in the conference in scoring defense (62.7 ppg) but last in scoring (64.0 ppg).

The Panthers enter the CBI with an eye toward next season, but they also know this is the last chance to win some games in a tough year.

"At the end of the day, we are looking into the future," Moore said. "We are going to play for next year and hopefully just win this tournament."

Additional Information:

Pitt Gameday

College Basketball Invitational

Wofford at Pitt

7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center

Radip: KDKA-FM (93.7)

Records: Wofford 19-13, Pitt 17-16

Series: Pitt leads, 1-0

Line: Pitt by 13.5

Of note: Wofford has four losses this season to teams with an RPI of 260 or higher.

Players to watch

Wofford: Brad Loesing, Sr., G - The 6-foot all-Southern Conference pick is averaging 14.9 points and 5.5 assists.

Pitt: Ashton Gibbs, Sr., G - He needs 13 points to pass Billy Knight (1,731) into eighth place on Pitt's all-time scoring list.

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