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Panthers focused on improving rebounding

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Rutger's Dane Miller snatches a rebound away from Pitt's J.J. Moore (44) in the second half of their game, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. Rutgers won 67-62. AP file photo

Mike Rice knows rebounding has long been a staple of Pitt's success, so the Rutgers coach said his Scarlet Knights probably performed eight rebounding drills in the two days leading up to their Big East game.

“You're not going to beat Pitt if they're going to outrebound you,” said Rice, who spent the 2006-07 season as a Pitt assistant. “We had five guys rebounding, which you have to do against Pitt.”

That the Scarlet Knights outrebounded the Panthers by 12 played a pivotal role in their 67-62 victory Saturday at Rutgers Athletic Center. It marked the second consecutive game in which Pitt was beaten on the boards, as Cincinnati enjoyed a 37-32 edge in the Big East opener. Pitt (12-3, 0-2) also was beaten on the boards by Michigan — its only nonconference loss — by an 11-rebound margin.

It is a trend that has Pitt coach Jamie Dixon worried.

“We've been talking about the rebounding from the beginning,” Dixon said. “I didn't think our rebounding numbers were good enough early.”

Despite his team's plus-9.9 rebounding margin entering the Rutgers game, Dixon expressed concern that the Panthers weren't as productive as he would have preferred. They also were outrebounded in a victory over Howard (37-36) and fell below their season average of 35.6 in wins over Mount St. Mary's (27), Delaware (34) and Detroit (31).

After emphasizing blocking out for positioning and battling for loose balls all week, Pitt still came up with 24 rebounds against a Rutgers team with no players taller than 6-foot-9. Dixon blamed Pitt's offense, which launched too many shots from the perimeter.

“I think shot selection has something to do with it,” he said. “We had bad shots in the first half. It's a team thing. Our leading rebounder had four rebounds. That's hard to believe.”

Senior center Dante Taylor pointed to Pitt's defense. Dixon said the Panthers have a goal of holding opponents to less than 40 percent shooting, but Rutgers shot 51.2 percent from the field.

“We're not getting stops, especially early on,” Taylor said. “We didn't get opportunities to get defensive rebounds.”

Pitt center Steven Adams, however, pointed to the dip in production as a difference in desire. The 7-foot freshman, one of three Pitt players who finished with four rebounds against Rutgers, doesn't think the Panthers are playing tough enough in the paint.

“It's got nothing to do with shot selection,” Adams said. “It's just (about) wanting the ball more. It's a mental thing we've got to buy into. When we do that, we'll get more rebounds. We're going to try and work on our weaknesses. We've just got to play a whole lot harder and with a whole lot more heart, no matter who we're playing.”

Rice believes it's just a matter of Pitt competing, which is why he doesn't think the Panthers have as big a problem as it appears.

“They'll be fine rebounding,” Rice said, “because of the personnel and the way Jamie coaches and teaches the game.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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