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Pitt men's team hoping rest can cure ailing stars

| Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, 10:33 p.m.

When asked about Pitt's upcoming game against top-ranked Syracuse immediately after Pitt's double-overtime victory over Virginia Tech Saturday, Cameron Wright responded with a blank stare.

“When is that game?” Wright deadpanned. “See, I'm bad with the schedule.”

That answer drew laughs from his teammates, especially sophomore point guard James Robinson. Wright had played a starring role against Virginia Tech, with a game-high 18 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and two turnovers, so he'd earned a moment of levity.

“Cam is a jokester,” Robinson said, “but every day at practice, every day in the weight room he is going to bring 100 percent effort.”

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon found a similar question about Wednesday's game against Syracuse humorless, despite his No. 25 Panthers (20-4, 8-3) having just clinched a 13th consecutive 20-win season.

Dixon knows this: Pitt was outrebounded for the fourth consecutive game, shot 35 percent or worse in the second half for the third consecutive game and required two overtimes at home to beat a team that had lost nine straight and is in last place in the ACC.

“It doesn't matter who's coming up,” Dixon said. “We've just got to get better.”

Following back-to-back home losses to Duke and Virginia with back-to- back overtime victories over basement dwellers Miami and Virginia Tech proved taxing to Pitt and exposed some of its strengths as sudden weaknesses when its best players aren't playing at their optimum.

Entering the Virginia Tech game, Pitt led the ACC in assists (16.4), field-goal percentage (47.8), rebounding margin (plus-8.1) and rebounding defense (28.8). Where the Panthers assisted on 16 of 18 field goals, they shot 37.5 percent (18 of 48), lost the rebounding battle by 15 and had 22 defensive rebounds in giving up 19 second-chance points.

“We're not rebounding well enough. It's obvious,” Dixon said. “We've got to get that changed.”

After playing three games in a seven-day span, two requiring overtime, the Panthers need rest and took Sunday off. Lamar Patterson (43.5), Wright (42.5), Talib Zanna (40) and Robinson (37.5) all averaged heavy minutes the past two games, so it's no surprise that signs of wear and tear are showing, particularly in Patterson (thumb) and Zanna (ankle). The fifth-year seniors are the team's top two scorers, averaging about 30 points a game, but combined for 12 against Virginia Tech.

It hasn't helped that the Panthers aren't getting much help from their supporting cast. Freshman guard Josh Newkirk contributed 11 points in 27 minutes off the bench, but power forwards Mike Young and Jamel Artis combined for five points and two rebounds in 41 minutes and Chris Jones, Derrick Randall and Joseph Uchebo were all scoreless.

“Obviously, you're not going to have guys score their average every game, and you've got to play through it,” Dixon said. “We've got Cameron and James and Josh, but we need other guys. We're playing through injuries and fatigue, but we've got to get it figured out.”

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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