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Turnovers trouble Pitt this season

| Saturday, March 3, 2012

The good news for Pitt is that Connecticut ranks near the bottom of the Big East at forcing turnovers.

But that always could change.

"We've been getting pressed all year," Panthers sophomore guard Lamar Patterson said. "It's just something we've got to be ready for."

Pitt is a tempting target.

The Panthers, who pride themselves on in-season improvement, remain turnover-prone. They're averaging 14.3 turnovers in Big East action, including 16 in an otherwise-clinical 89-69 victory over St. John's on Wednesday.

Pitt (16-14, 5-12) will get another chance to take care of the ball when it faces slumping Connecticut (17-12, 7-10) today at Gampel Pavilion in the regular-season finale.

"It's something we've just got to improve on," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I just can't believe that we haven't gotten better in that area. It's held us back all year long."

Pitt turned the ball over three times against St. Johns' half-court press -- in 38 seconds.

The Panthers held a 20-plus point lead at the time, so it really didn't hurt, but it showed how something as basic as getting the ball across midcourt can be a challenge for this team.

Pitt's 19 turnovers were the chief culprit in a 57-54 loss at Louisville and a sloppy, turnover-marred stretch cost the Panthers in a 62-57 loss at Marquette.

"Turnovers have been hurting us throughout the whole season," said Patterson, who matched his season high with four turnovers against St. John's. "When teams put (the press) on, we speed ourselves up. We're not taking our time. ... It's something that's been happening all year."

Junior point guard Tray Woodall has 39 turnovers in the past nine games. Only three Big East teams are averaging more turnovers than the normally precise, sure-handed Panthers.

"Every team has their flaw, and this year, turnovers have been that one thing that's been bothering us consistently," said Pitt redshirt freshman Cameron Wright, who has eight turnovers in his past 13 games, spanning 129 minutes. "When we turn the ball over, I think it's anxiety."

While the defending NCAA champion Huskies are trying to avoid another March Madness-denting loss, Pitt will settle its seed -- as high as No. 11 or as low as No. 14 -- for next week's Big East Tournament.

Connecticut, which is 3-9 in its past 12 games, could get its coach back.

Jim Calhoun, who had lower back surgery Monday, returned to practic Friday, and his status for today's game is uncertain. Calhoun, 69, has been on an indefinite medical leave since early February. The Huskies are 3-5 without him.

"I just couldn't stay home any longer," Calhoun said after practice yesterday. "I didn't know what I was going to do. I'm getting back to normal. I'm not quite as cranky as I should be, but hopefully, I will get there."

Calhoun said he will let his comfort level today determine if he coaches. Associate head coach George Blaney has been handling the duties.

"Hopefully, I'll wake up (Saturday) and feel better," Calhoun said.

Connecticut needs its leader. The Huskies are 5-11 since a 12-1 start and have plunged from as high as No. 4 in the nation to a fringe NCAA bubble team.

"I wanted to get back with the kids," Calhoun said. "It's nice in those moments where you're collecting trophies and all those kinds of things, but you need to be there when things aren't going so well. Right now, they haven't gone as well as we would like."

Additional Information:

Panthers gameday

Pitt at Connecticut

Noon, Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.

ESPN/KDKA-FM (93.7), Pitt Radio Network

Records: Pitt 16-14, 5-12 Big East; Connecticut 17-12, 7-10

Series: Connecticut leads, 31-28

Line: Connecticut by 6

Of note: Ryan Boatright (10.6 ppg) and Andre Drummond (10.3 ppg) are trying to become first UConn freshman tandem to have double-figure scoring averages in 18 years.

Players to watch

Pitt: J.J. Moore, So., F -- Averaging 15.3 points in the past four games, while shooting 63 percent from the field (20 for 32).

Connecticut: Jeremy Lamb, So., G -- The preseason All-American ranks third in the Big East in scoring at 17.7 points per game.

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