Pitt ramps up offensive production
The most recent time Pitt scored 95 points in back-to-back games, Ashton Gibbs was 5 years old and Jamie Dixon was a second-year assistant at Northern Arizona.
That was until last week.
Pitt scored 97 points against Illinois-Chicago and 95 against North Florida in a pair of lopsided wins in a four-day span.
The No. 5 Panthers (3-0), who play Maryland (3-0) at 7 p.m. tonight at Madison Square Garden in the Coaches vs. Cancer semifinals, are making a concerted effort to run a more up-tempo offense this season.
"With me and Travon (Woodall), I think we've got two athletic point guards who can push the ball all the time," Gibbs said. "We've been doing a good job of it, and Coach Dixon has been liking it. Now, we've just got to keep going."
Pitt's recent offensive outburst marked the first time with consecutive games of at least 95 points since late December 1995, when the Panthers scored 101 against Prairie View A&M and 95 against Brown. That's a span of 490 games.
If Pitt hadn't missed so many free throws - eight against Illinois-Chicago and 10 versus North Florida - the Panthers could have posted consecutive 100-point games for the first time since Paul Evans' defensively challenged 1989-90 team.
Pitt averaged 68.7 points per game last season and posted the second-lowest point total in Big East Tournament history in a 50-45 quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame.
"It has surprised me, the fast tempo they played, especially against Rhode Island," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team will play Texas in the other semifinal. "Jamie maybe feels he has a few more weapons and can push it a little bit. At the same time his thing is defense, and I have to believe when it comes down to it, they are going to guard like they used to."
Pitt, always one of the stingiest teams in the Big East, isn't sacrificing its defense for the sake of tempo. The Panthers are holding their opponents — albeit not top-level Big East caliber — to 38.5 percent from the field, and tied a school record with 59 rebounds, including 32 offensive boards, in a 95-49 victory over North Florida on Saturday.
After his team's loss, North Florida coach Matt Driscoll, a Pittsburgh native, said the Panthers' attacking style is effective.
"They are playing faster and they are scoring a lot more points," Driscoll said. "I really credit Jamie for doing that and really changing his philosophy. Now, he's not going to let them be wild banshees, of course. But he really has done a good job letting those guys score and letting those guys go."
Shooting guard Brad Wanamaker and Gibbs, both averaging 19.3 points, make the up-tempo attack work. The two, along with Woodall, have combined for 35 assists and 14 turnovers this season. Wanamaker is a proven finisher, while Gibbs, one of the most accurate shooters in the Big East, can use the fast break to get an open 3-point look.
Wings Gilbert Brown, Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore give Pitt more ingredients to run a faster attack.
"I like how we are pushing it," Dixon said, "but we have to continue to make better decisions and improve in that area."
Maryland also pushes the tempo. The Terrapins are averaging 89.7 points per game and feature one of the top post-players in the nation, sophomore Jordan Williams.
Gibbs said the half-court defense will be the difference between two up-tempo teams.
"Whoever defends is going to win the game, because the offensive style is going to balance out," Gibbs said.
Maryland (3-0) vs. No. 5 Pitt (3-0)
7 p.m. today, Madison Square Garden
TV/radio: ESPN/93.7 FM, The Fan
Favorite: Pitt by 4.5
Series record: Maryland leads 5-1
Outlook: This is the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer and the first meeting between the two schools since 1998. The winner will play either Texas or Illinois at 7 p.m. on Friday in the finals. The consolation game is 5 p.m.
Maryland is coming off an 89-59 victory over Maine behind sophomore C Jordan Williams (21.0 ppg, 13.7 rpg), who has posted three consecutive double-doubles and was named the ACC Player of the Week. Dating to last year, the 6-10 Williams has five consecutive double-doubles, the longest streak by a Maryland player since Joe Smith had seven in a row in 1995.
Freshman Gs Pe'Shon Howard, who hit the game-winning basket in Maryland's 75-74 come-from-behind victory over College of Charleston, and Terrell Stoglin provide depth for a full-court press that helps force 22 turnovers a game. Maryland has beaten at least one top-10 team each of the past 14 seasons.
Junior PF Nasir Robinson (knee) has returned to practice and is listed as questionable. Redshirt freshman F Lamar Patterson (ankle) is practicing at full strength.
Pitt is 24-11 at Madison Square Garden since 2000-01, but the Panthers have dropped three of their past four games at the Garden, among them a 74-64 loss to Indiana last season.
• Coach: Gary Williams, 22nd season (445-238; 33rd season overall, 652-366)
G/F Dino Gregory, 6-7 Sr.: 4.7 points per game
G/F Cliff Tucker, 6-6 Sr.: 15.7 ppg
C Jordan Williams, 6-10 So.: 21.0 ppg
G Adrian Bowie, 6-2 Sr.: 9.0 ppg
G Sean Mosley, 6-4 Jr.: 8.0 ppg
Coach: Jamie Dixon, eighth season (191-54)
F Talib Zanna, 6-9 Fr.: 8.0 ppg
F Gilbert Brown, 6-6 Sr.: 8.7 ppg
C Gary McGhee, 6-10 Sr.: 5.0 ppg
G Brad Wanamaker, 6-4 Sr.: 19.3 ppg
G Ashton Gibbs, 6-2 Jr.: 19.3 ppg