Pitt fends off pesky UC San Diego in exhibition game

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:18 p.m.

Against an opponent whom Pitt could turn it on or turn it off at will, the Panthers made just enough plays to secure a 72-59 victory Friday night over Division II UC San Diego in an exhibition game at Petersen Events Center.

“No one feels real good how we played,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We're definitely not overconfident right now.”

As for the game within a game, Dixon is adjusting to life without center Steven Adams.

Now playing with the Oklahoma City Thunder after one season with the Panthers, Adams provided a legitimate inside threat at both ends. Senior Talib Zanna is expected to fill that role, along with junior Derrick Randall and sophomore Joseph Uchebo.

But with Randall and Uchebo sidelined with injuries, Dixon needed Zanna and freshman Michael Young to step up Friday.

Young, a McKeesport native, delivered back-to-back 3-point plays to finally put away the scrappy Tritons. His second 3-point play gave Pitt a 61-56 lead with 4:13 remaining.

With Young and Zanna (17 points, 11 rebounds) leading the way, the Panthers' offense finally kicked in after halftime, shooting 54.2 percent. Pitt shot only 37 percent in the first half.

“I was nervous, but it was fun,” said Young, who tallied 11 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. “We got the ball in the paint and I was able to finish.”

Zanna's 6-foot-9 frame and long wingspan didn't prevent the visitors from running their motion offense and slicing inside for post-ups resulting in a pair of 3-point plays in the first half.

When UC San Diego's Hunter Walker hit a 3-point jumper over Zanna to spark a 9-2 run, Dixon immediately called timeout.

“Lot of miscues defensively,” said senior Lamar Patterson, who started at power forward because of injuries and finished with 16 points and four rebounds in a game-high 36 minutes. “We'll get out there tomorrow and fix our mistakes. It's only October.”

Dixon wanted to take a good look at his starters last night. Patterson, Zanna, Cameron Wright and James Robinson all topped the 30-minute mark.

“Those four have clearly been our best players,” Dixon said.

Pitt led 32-24 at halftime, but couldn't put the Tritons away until late. With less than nine minutes remaining in the game, the Tritons tied the score 49-49 on a long 3-pointer.

UC San Diego's lineup, featuring five perimeter shooters on the floor at the same time, gave the Panthers fits. Sharpshooters MacKenzie McCullough and James McCann led the Tritons with 13 points apiece.

“Our ability to hang around awhile is something to build on and give us confidence,” UC San Diego coach Eric Olen said. “This is a great experience for our team.”

Pitt plays its final exhibition game Friday against Slippery Rock at Petersen Events Center.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jharris_trib.

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