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Pitt ready to bounce back against Washington

| Friday, Feb. 16, 2007

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon admits the losses are much harder to forget than the wins.

"Other teams lose," he said. "We just lose less than most, and those are the one's we seem to remember. I remember, anyway."

The No. 7 Panthers (22-4) will try to shove the loss to Louisville even further into the past when they host Washington of the Pac-10 on Saturday afternoon in a rare February non-conference game.

Washington hasn't beaten a top-10 opponent on the road since gas was 52 cents a gallon. And the Huskies (16-9), who are 0-31 against top-10 home teams since 1974, are coming nearly 2,200 miles for the nationally-televised game.

The game will pit senior Aaron Gray against freshman Spencer Hawes of Washington in a match-up of 7-footers.

"Right now, it's all about us getting better," junior forward Mike Cook said after Thursday's practice. "We're trying to play good basketball at the right time. We just need to keep getting better and don't let the Louisville game affect us too much. We want to learn from it."

Two practices, three days and four words from their coach -- "playing for first place" -- served as an ointment for the shell-shocked Panthers. The 66-53 loss was the team's worst at home in six years and the second-worst defeat of the Jamie Dixon era.

Thanks to DePaul's victory over Marquette on Wednesday night, every team in the Big East other than Pitt and Georgetown has at least four losses. Pitt (10-2 Big East) holds a one-half game edge over Georgetown (19-5, 9-2) atop the standings.

"We're still in first place," Dixon said. "Every day, I started practice, 'Playing for first place.' That's a pretty good thing to be playing for, especially this time of the year. (Washington has) their motivation. Our motivation is playing for first place and playing for a better seed and playing to get better. That's always our motivation."

Pitt spent the past two days of practice and film study working on everything from breaking the press to defending Washington's formidable inside tandem of sophomore power forward Jon Brockman (6-7, 260) and Hawes (7-0, 250).

The Panthers turned the ball over 16 times in the first half against Louisville's full-court press and 2-3 zone, something "that's hard to do," Dixon said. They also went 3 for 21 from 3-point range, while Louisville shot 57.9 percent in the second half.

"We never thought we were perfect," Dixon said. "We were always looking to improve. We've handled that well all year long. We didn't play well the other day. It's what happens. It's maybe the end of the world to some, but not to these guys."

Washington, a consensus top-20 team in the pre-season rankings, is one of the biggest disappointments of the season. The Huskies dropped six of seven games during one stretch around the Christmas holidays and, like Louisville before them, are hoping to use Pitt as an elusive signature victory to add to their NCAA Tournament hopes. They are coming off a 65-61 loss to No. 10 Washington State.

"We need to be ready to go on Saturday," Dixon said, "and we will."

Winning ways
Pitt ranks No. 3 in winning percentage among NCAA Division I teams since 2001. The two teams ahead of the Panthers are having sub-par seasons.
2001-07 record
2006-07 record
1. Duke
2. Gonzaga
3. Pitt
4. Memphis
5. Kansas

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