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Improved practice habits help Pitt snap slow start

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt forward Dante Taylor to the Panthers comeback against Oakland at Petersen Events Center Nov. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Two losses to open Pitt's final season in the Big East weren't what coach Jamie Dixon expected or could tolerate.

So, after a 67-62 loss at Rutgers last week, he put his players through some of the most intense practice sessions of the season.

“Those few days in practice, we were getting after it aggressively,” senior center Dante Taylor said. “Coaches weren't calling (fouls), just letting (us) play.”

Redshirt freshman forward Durand Johnson liked it.

“We just felt like enough was enough,” he said. “We just had to get back to the way the normal Pitt team was, being aggressive and getting after it, and stop letting teams get after us and getting us on our heels.”

Johnson said Pitt, which opened the season 12-1 before losing to Cincinnati and Rutgers, was developing bad habits.

“Sometimes, you come out in practice, you might be lazy, you might be beat up and sore,” he said. “The old saying, you practice how you play. When we practice lousy and don't get after it, we come out with (losses). And we did that at the beginning of the Big East.”

The result was a dominant victory over No. 19 Georgetown on Tuesday that won't mean much if Pitt (13-3, 1-2) gives a soft performance Saturday against Marquette at Petersen Events Center.

“We have to match their physicality and we should be all right,” Taylor said.

Marquette (11-3, 2-0) has won four in a row since a 49-47 loss at Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 19. The Golden Eagles depend on their guard tandem of leading scorer Vander Blue (13.2 ppg) and Junior Cadougan (9.6). The inside threat is junior forward Davante Gardner, who is averaging 12.9 points off the bench.

“He's a guy they really go through,” Dixon said. “As soon as he's in the game, they are going inside. That's not too hard to figure out.”

Marquette's victories during its winning streak have been by margins of 4, 8, 6, and 1. But the Golden Eagles can score (84 and 82 points in wins over LSU and Connecticut). Meanwhile, Pitt is allowing an average of only 52.9 points per game after playing a weak nonconference schedule.

Dixon credits “attention to detail, doing the little things and communication,” but he agrees scoring is down throughout college basketball.

He said moving the 3-point line back led to more zone defense, which clogs the lanes and makes scoring more difficult.

“That uses up time, uses up possessions,” Dixon said. “That's a big factor (in the decrease in scoring). The rules makers wanted it that way. That's what they are going to get.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or @JDiPaola_Trib.

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