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Pitt continues to thrive for perfection

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002

Pitt has defeated its first three opponents by a combined score of 240-162, giving it an average margin of victory of 26 points. The Panthers have also outrebounded the opposition by a margin of 16.7 per game and are holding them to only 36 percent shooting from the field.

Sounds good, right?

Maybe for some, but not for a team that's ranked No. 5 in the nation, for a team many are picking to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament, for a team that is seeking perfection.

Even coach Ben Howland finds himself expecting more and more from his squad, which plays host to Norfolk State of the Mideastern Athletic Conference at 7:30 tonight at Petersen Events Center. Pitt is 3-0; Norfolk State 1-1.

“I think everybody is critical because we expect so much of ourselves,” Howland said.

That's part of the reason junior guard Julius Page went on a mini tirade about the Panthers' performance Saturday after an 89-49 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which trailed by only seven at the half.

Page's concern was that the Panthers weren't playing with the proper focus, which he feels could be costly when they're facing opponents with better resumes than St. Francis (Pa.), Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Norfolk State.

Howland is the first to admit that the bar has been set high, but he's also quick to point out that there's a difference between having high standards and being unrealistic.

“I know we'll make mistakes,” he said. “We won't be perfect. We'll be a better team as the season progresses. We'll grow as a team.”

Howland's team is looking to improve on its outside shooting. The Panthers are hitting 46.6 percent of their shots from the field (most of which have come inside) and only 23.8 percent from 3-point range.

When he coached at Northern Arizona prior to arriving at Pitt, Howland's teams had no equal when it came to outside shooting. His 1998-99 squad became the first in NCAA history to lead the country in field goal percentage (.523) and 3-point field goal percentage (.445) in the same season. His Lumberjacks led the NCAA in 3-point shooting in 1997 (.419) and 1998 (.430), as well.

This year's Pitt team is nowhere close to those Northern Arizona teams, though Howland is unfazed.

“I'm really not concerned,” said Howland, who said he recruited more pure shooters at Northern Arizona, whereas he recruits higher caliber athletes at Pitt, some of whom don't shoot as well.

“I was really pleased with us going 11 for 11 from the foul line in first half the other night (against Pine Bluff). We'll shoot the ball better as the season progresses. I'm' not really worried about it. I'm more concerned about us getting beat defensively. We got beat on drives a couple times the other night. We're leaving our feet and trying to block shots. We made mistakes, guys going by us. You can never play perfect. But you strive to.”

The quest for perfection continues tonight.

  • Notes: Norfolk State has played Pitt once before, a 102-78 loss to the Panthers on Dec. 1, 1999, at Fitzgerald Field House. … First-year Norfolk State coach Dwight Freeman is a former assistant at the University of Miami. His team is expected to full-court press tonight, something Pitt's seen very little of this year. … Pitt freshman point guard Carl Krauser, who strained both calf muscles and sat out of the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game, was expected to practice Monday and could play tonight. Howland said Krauser could have played Saturday if absolutely necessary. … Norfolk State lost its opener to Western Illinois, 75-74, and defeated the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 61-60. … Howland had this to say about his team's sluggish first halves this season: “Everybody we play, we're going to get their best shot. They're going to come in here and give us their best game. I thought Pine Bluff played well in the first half. It wasn't all us. It was them, too.”

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