Pitt suffering through worst period of Dixon era

By Will Graves

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Until Dixon knows, the Panthers will turn to freshmen John Johnson and Cameron Wright to fill in the gaps. Johnson can fill it up at times while Wright is the team's best backcourt defender.

Yet neither has played in the Big East crucible. The energy they bring to the floor seems to dissipate late in games. Pitt has led by at least seven points in each of its four straight losses, with some of the collapses coming in the final moments.

None, perhaps, were more painful than last week's 84-81 loss to lowly DePaul. The Panthers led by four with 17 seconds to play only to suffer a rare meltdown. DePaul's Brandon Young scored the game's final seven points — including beating Gibbs off the dribble twice — to send Pitt to its longest losing streak since 1999-2000.

Dixon refuses to panic but knows there are red flags everywhere. Normally one of the most intimidating teams in the nation, Pitt is allowing Big East opponents to shoot 46 percent from the field. It's a very un-Pittlike number, one the Panthers know need to change quickly.

Things have become so problematic Dixon is considering scrapping the man-to-man defense he's employed since the day he took over for Ben Howland in favor of a zone that puts less pressure on his backcourt.

Dixon says he hasn't taken a good look at the Big East standings. Not a bad idea considering the Panthers are just one of two teams still winless in conference play.

If they can't get it together against Rutgers, things could turn ugly quickly.

"We just need to play better as a team," Dixon said. "We're going to play good people. There's going to be good people throughout. What we do is the important factor."

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere