Pitt's Moore shows improvement since Cincinnati loss
The Big East opener against Cincinnati represented a low point for J.J. Moore, as it was the only game this season that the Pitt junior power forward was held scoreless.
Moore since has become one of the most consistent players, albeit out of a reserve role, for the No. 23 Panthers (19-5, 7-4 Big East), who visit the No. 17 Bearcats (18-5, 6-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Fifth Third Arena.
“We're definitely a big spark plug,” Moore said of the substitutes in Pitt's 10-man rotation. “I'm coming in to give a spark.”
The Panthers might need that spark sooner from Moore if starter Talib Zanna, who turned his ankle Thursday and didn't finish practice, is limited or can't play against the Bearcats.
It shouldn't affect Pitt's scoring much either way. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Moore is averaging 7.2 points in the 10 games since that 70-61 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 31 at Petersen Events Center. That's better than Zanna's 6.6 average in the same span. The 6-9, 230-pound Zanna, however, has averaged twice as many rebounds — 5.4 to 2.7 — as Moore.
Their differences can wear on opposing power forwards, who have to withstand Zanna's size and Moore's speed.
“It's definitely affecting them,” Moore said. “Talib is down low. When I come, I'm more outside and giving them a lot more to worry about. If they decide to play off me, I shoot the 3. If they don't, one of my teammates is going to the hole and getting an and-one bucket.”
Moore proved that he could score last season when he averaged 11.8 points in the final 13 games and had a career-high 21 against South Florida. He has scored in double figures seven times this season, including a 14-point performance Jan. 5 at Rutgers.
Dixon pushed Moore to concentrate on playing better defense, and that is where his improvement has been most noticeable. Where Zanna brings rebounding to the four spot, Moore adds an element of quickness that benefits him when playing help defense.
“The biggest part is just going out there and defending,” Moore said. “Last year I wasn't really a good defender. I picked it up throughout the year, through the summer, and (I'm) just going out there and taking pride in our defense.”
Dixon credited Moore for using his athleticism to cause turnovers against Seton Hall by disrupting passing lanes and preventing perimeter shooting from forwards Brandon Mobley and Brian Oliver.
Pitt needs a strong game from Moore against Cincinnati, which scored the most points (70) in regulation against the Panthers of any Big East team this season while also enjoying a 37-32 rebounding edge.
Dixon seems confident that he can count on Moore, especially on defense, this time.
“I really think he's doing a good job defensively,” Dixon said. “He's taking charges, he's very active on rotations, and I think he's been a big part of our improvement defensively. You can see the energy he plays with, and he's a much more valuable defender this year for us in that role.”