Pitt, Gibbs shooting for more in NCAA tournament
Ashton Gibbs glanced at the statistics sheet following Pittsburgh's 50-45 loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament and didn't believe what he saw.
The Panthers, forced into a slow-paced game by the Fighting Irish's deliberate offense, scored only 16 points in the second half.
Another number surprised him, too: Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer and lone proven outside shooter, took only four shots. Or as many shots as some top shooters manage in four or five possessions.
``I want to take what the defense gives me, and I took four shots. It's something that I did - and we lost,'' Gibbs said.
In a season that began with coach Jamie Dixon re-emphasizing the importance of playing don't-give-them-a-step defense, the third-seeded Panthers' inconsistent offense might be their biggest worry heading into Friday's NCAA West Regional game against 14th-seeded Oakland (26-8) in Milwaukee.
While the Panthers are among college basketball's biggest overachievers, winning 24 games after being picked to finish ninth in the Big East Conference, they've regressed offensively since last season.
They allow an average of only 61.4 points per game, but their scoring average is down nearly 10 points per game - from 77.8 to 68.1. They've been held to 66 points or fewer in eight of their last 15 games, a slump that has forced them to play excellent defense merely to stay in games.
Gibbs is a concern, too. After scoring 20 or more points three times in a four-game span from Feb. 8-21, he has been held to 13 points or fewer in four of his last five games and five of his last seven.
It's difficult to have a big game when a player is getting only four shots.
``I'm looking at how I can get myself more open - that wasn't a regular routine for me during the season - but at the same time, I'm going to take what the defense gives me and not try to force anything,'' Gibbs said. ``My team has been doing a great job of finding me open spots and screening for me, now it's my turn to get away from my man and get as open a shot as I can.''
Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon suggested there was another reason for Pitt's inability to score against Notre Dame.
``Notre Dame slowed the game down big time, but when we got shots, we took quick shots,'' he said. ``They were holding the ball for 30, 35 seconds. We've got to take better shots.''
Gibbs needs to take more shots, if only because he understands what can happen if Pitt keeps struggling for points.
This is Pitt's ninth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, yet the Panthers have advanced past the round of 16 only once since 2002 - losing to Villanova 78-76 in a regional final last season.
``Anybody can be beaten at any given time,'' Gibbs said before the Panthers left Wednesday for Milwaukee. ``Being in the NCAA tournament is something you've got to cherish. We have a good seeding now, and it's our turn to take advantage of it.''
Jamie Dixon likes that Pitt beat Marquette at Milwaukee's Bradley Center only last month, since that's where the Panthers play Friday - and, if they win, where they will play Sunday against sixth-seeded Xavier or 11th-seeded Minnesota. The Panthers beat Xavier 60-55 in a regional semifinal last season.
Gilbert Brown, one of only three current Pitt players who played substantial roles in the tournament last season, also isn't scoring consistently. His scoring totals over his last 12 games: 25 points, 0, 23, 6, 16, 5, 16, 3, 17, 0, 19, 3. The 5-point game was at Marquette.
Based on his pattern, at least Brown is due for a big game against Oakland.
``If we can maintain our focus, and just go out there and execute like we're supposed to, we should be fine in these first couple of games, even though I know they're going to be tough ones,'' Brown said. ``You see the potential games that you could play (later), but your main objective is to focus on the first game.''