UPG men looking for bounce-back year

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

After a frustrating 9-16 season in which the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg went 6-12 in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, coach Sean Strickland is implementing a more offensive mindset.

“I joke with the guys, there's that quote that ‘defense wins championships,' ” Strickland said, “but that was actually a quote from a football coach. In basketball you've got to put the ball in the basket.”

The Bobcats averaged 68.2 points per game last season, and Strickland said his team has set a goal to average over 80 this season. The hope is that the up-tempo style will help the defense out, as well.

“The other team is going to get shots,” Strickland said, “but we're hoping their shots are contested and playing at a faster pace than maybe they're used to playing at.”

Strickland has confidence moving forward after returning five of his top six scorers from last year, including AMCC Newcomer of the Year Rocco Contristano, who averaged 11.5 points per game as a freshman. But it's still a work in progress.

“I think realistically, we're still a year away,” Strickland said. “With that said, we have enough talent to do some good things. It will just be a matter of how quickly we grow up from a mental standpoint.”

UPG will be counting on three veterans — seniors Mike Pearson and Scott Melick, and junior Brian Heinle — to lead the maturation process.

“We have a lot of young guys, and that can be a big issue with young teams — losing composure, losing confidence,” Pearson said. “So for me, (my job) is just to keep that confidence in those guys.”

Heinle averaged 10.2 points last year and was named MVP of the Bobcats' preseason for the way he stepped up both on and off the court.

“I'm normally not a talkative guy, and a lot of the guys on the team aren't,” Heinle said, “but even sophomores have to step up and be leaders. I'm only a junior and I'm one of the oldest guys on the team now. We've just got to push each other.”

Ultimately, the young Bobcats are convinced that they can win now.

“Coach has said stuff like ‘We're a year away,' but he just says that mentally,” Heinle said. “He wants this to be our year. We all do. I'm sick of losing.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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