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Pitt basketball coach Dixon: Rebounds, defense crucial

| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Steven Adams pulls down a rebound next to Connecticut's Tyler Olander during the first half Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.

Despite running the risk of sounding like a broken record, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon continues to credit the Panthers' success and blame their failures on rebounding.

“I seem to be the only one that keeps emphasizing that — or do it more than others,” Dixon said after Pitt's 69-61 victory Saturday over Connecticut, in which the Panthers had a plus-11 rebounding margin.

“That's where it lies: possessions. We're a low-turnover team. If we get more rebounds, we'll have far more possessions than our opponents. That, to me, is the key.”

After winning at Georgetown and Villanova, Pitt (15-4, 3-3 Big East) will try for its third consecutive conference road victory when it visits Providence (10-8, 2-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Dunkin' Donuts Center.

“Every game is big,” Dixon said. “Obviously, we know we've had two good road wins. We've got to get ready and go get Providence, who's got a couple players back now. The key is the way we're doing it, and that's rebounding and defending.”

Defense and possessions play just as pivotal of a role, as they are all intertwined. Pitt leads the Big East in scoring defense, allowing 53.9 points a game; is second in turnover margin (plus-4.42); and ranks third in rebounding margin (plus-7.9). Pitt also is first in the league in assist-to-turnover margin (plus-1.8) and second in turnover margin (plus-4.42), which helps its lack of scoring.

The Panthers know they will need to play good defense and outrebound Providence, which is coming off a 69-66 victory over Villanova after losing five consecutive during one stretch. It was Providence's first Big East home win.

The Friars feature the Big East's top scorer in 6-foot-1 junior guard Bryce Cotton, who is averaging 21.8 points, and a pair of point guards who are back from injury. Senior Vincent Council, a preseason first-team All-Big East pick who led the league in assists last season, missed 10 games with a hamstring injury. Freshman Kris Dunn missed the first nine games after shoulder surgery before setting a school record with 13 assists against Colgate.

Providence also has two of the conference's top rebounders in 6-6 sophomore LaDontae Henton (8.2 rebounds per game) and 6-9 junior Kadeem Batts (7.2), who are joined in the frontcourt by 6-10 sophomore Sidiki Johnson, an Arizona transfer who became eligible at the semester break.

Even though Dixon has turned to less-traditional methods, such as switching to a zone defense for stretches against Connecticut, the Panthers know that they have to rely on what have long been the trademarks of Pitt basketball. Dixon points to the rebounding inconsistency in Big East losses to Cincinnati, Rutgers and Marquette as proof.

“We know when we don't, we come up short,” he said.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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