Against Florida, Pitt will be hard-pressed for repeat
ORLANDO, Fla. — Pitt considers itself a low-turnover team but perhaps never more so than in its 77-48 NCAA Tournament second-round win against Colorado on Thursday, when an early lead helped the Panthers commit a season-low three turnovers.
They'll be hard-pressed to come close to that Saturday against a top-seeded, top-ranked Florida team known for creating pressure on defense.
“We're a hard team to press because we've got so many guys who can handle the ball and make great decisions,” said senior forward Lamar Patterson, who leads the team in assists and turnovers. “We're just going to use that to our advantage and try to attack and get easy layups.”
Florida has won 27 games in a row, and the Gators average 2.6 fewer turnovers than they force, with guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill and forward Will Yeguete taking pride in the intensity and relentlessness of their pressure.
“Our motto is to try to wear teams down with the press and try to eventually grind them down with our depth,” Wilbekin said Friday.
Gators coach Billy Donovan said Pitt is an “outstanding” passing team, making it harder to force the Panthers into mistakes that lead to points in transition. However, the press, he said, is more than just turnovers.
“It's disruptive, something you have to deal with every single possession,” Donovan said. “Ideally, yeah, you'd want to turn teams over a lot. ... It's our style of play. It's kind of what we do.”
If Pitt has shown a vulnerability against the press, it came against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. The Panthers had a 20-point lead with 7:13 to play, then, as the Tar Heels went to a full-court press, Pitt had three turnovers in 25 seconds. That sparked a run that cut the lead to three points in the final minute before Pitt closed out an 80-75 win.
Otherwise, they closed the season taking good care of the ball, having fewer than 10 turnovers in five of their last seven games, lowering their season average to 10.3 turnovers.
“I think Pittsburgh does a terrific job of attacking the press,” Donovan said. “They're going to try to attack. ... They're very good at that.”
Coming off a 29-point win, the Panthers are confident, even facing a top-ranked opponent.
“We feel like coming off a three-turnover game, you feel like you're pretty good at taking care of the ball,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “But you can't expect to have three turnovers every game.
“We've got to take care of the ball. We also have to hurt them on the back end. If they're going to press, we want to get baskets at the back end of it.”
Greg Auman is a freelance writer.