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Kovacevic: Dixon forges through first failure

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Jamie Dixon has achieved some wondrous things at Pitt. He's a three-time national coach of the year. He led the Panthers to eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments and two No. 1 seeds. He had the most victories through eight seasons of any coach in Division I history.

The man proved a long time ago that he's a winner at an elite level.

What we don't yet fully know is what kind of a loser he is.

How will he respond to the humbling 15-14 overall record, 4-12 in the Big East, going into the game Wednesday night against St.John's?

Or the losing streaks of eight games and the current five games?

Or being beaten by Wagner and DePaul?

Or the daily facepalms of a group maddeningly prone to turnovers and defensive space-outs?

How is he sleeping , for crying out loud?

I asked Dixon that last question in a lengthy chat this week at Petersen Events Center, and I'd swear he squirmed a bit before answering.

"Honestly, I'm just trying to ... my focus is all on what we can do to get better, and to not let this hold us back in the future," he said. "I've always been a guy who moves on from games. I want to see that tape of the next opponent. I don't know how anyone else does it, but that's how I do it."

That's more telling than it might sound.

Dixon recalled Pitt's 57-54 loss Sunday at No. 17 Louisville, one lowlighted by two dumbfounding decisions by Tray Woodall in the final minute.

"There were some good things," Dixon said. "The rebounding was better. The defense was good. I thought our attack was good ..."

He trailed off momentarily.

"But you know, I moved on. I watched tape of that game, then got right to watching some St. John's to begin preparing for them."

Monday morning, right?

"Oh, no, I watched them both on the plane back to Pittsburgh."

That's one lousy loser.

Dixon might be holding something back, and I'm almost positive he is. But he comes across as wanting to cull nothing more from his first sustained failure than to forget it all and forge ahead:

> > I asked if all the losing was especially painful after so much winning: "I mean, it's not the record I wanted to have, but we've had losses before. There have been a lot more this season, obviously, but every loss is hard. When you're ranked No. 1 in the regular season and lose, that's hard. But you move on. That's what we need to do here now. I'm not looking backward. I'm looking at St. John's."

> > I asked, on the eve of the final home game, how Pitt could regain its aura of superiority at the Pete: "Every game, every practice is an opportunity. We have an opportunity to beat St. John's. That's next."

> > I asked if there were any lessons to be learned from this season, and he initially laughed, which probably was just as revealing as the answer he then gave: "This year's a challenge, but every year's a challenge. We knew we were going to be younger. My hope was that this was a team that, if we had everybody healthy, if we had everybody going, we could improve as the year went along."

That didn't happen, of course. And looking at specifics might be most instructive in explaining why.

Ashton Gibbs, the Big East's Preseason Player of the Year, has gone an inexplicable three games in a row without a 3-pointer and is down to 15.4 points per game.

Nasir Robinson, once so nimble under the basket, has been beaten down by a bum knee.

Woodall missed a third of the season with an abdominal injury.

Dante Taylor has continued to lay an All-American egg.

Sophomores Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore have made strides, but the five freshmen, the most in Dixon's tenure, have shown only flashes.

Dixon deserves blame, too. No way is he above all this. But let's not lose focus: This Pitt roster never should have been a consensus preseason top-10 pick. That made no sense after the graduations of Gary McGhee, Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker.

"I said it at the time," Dixon said. "That was based more on what we'd done over the last 10 years."

Right. But Pitt was expected to be Pitt, if only because Dixon had always found a way.

I'm betting he will again, too, given a rich incoming class next season with Steven Adams, James Robinson and, as of Tuesday, Chris Jones, the No. 2 prospect in New Jersey.

"Oh, yeah, we'll bounce back," Dixon said. "I think we can bounce back Wednesday."

Additional Information:

Who's to blame?

What was most responsible for Pitt's downfall this season• Ashton Gibbs' drop-off• Khem Birch's defection• Injuries• Discuss on Dejan Kovacevic's blog .



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