Pitt-UConn Observations without DeJuan Blair

Paul SieversAnalyst IFebruary 17, 2009

I could write everything that has already been posted about the matchup of the big men, but I don’t want Thabeet a dead horse, HEY-YOOOO!

If I didn’t talk about the matchup in the post, I would be ignoring the biggest storyline from the game, so let me just speak my peace to get it over with. Blair dominated Hasheem Thabeet and it was the biggest reason Pitt won the game.

DeJuan is a physical ballplayer who gets away with a lot of contact, something that might come back to bite him in March. When Thabeet went over his back, it was a clean play and Bilas and Raftery agreed at the time. I’m tired of arguing about it and you’re not going to change my mind.

Even though that play was clean, last night stamped Blair as the game’s most polarizing player. No matter what you thought about him going into the game, your feelings have only been strengthened after last night.

Now that that’s out of the way, I would like to talk about the other players on the court. While the post matchup was the most important talking point of last night’s game, I feel that everything else is being unjustly overlooked.

1. Pitt does not win if this game is played in Storrs

I understand that it’s a money thing and the atmosphere at the Civic (I’m not calling it XL) Center was great. I just think it's such an advantage to play on campus. Aside from St. John’s, I think any team that plays its games in two venues gives up a lot when they move off campus.

2. Neither coach won the coaching battle

This was a strategic stalemate. Both coaches used the bench to the best of their abilities. Pitt couldn’t defend the pick and roll, UConn couldn’t defend any of Pitt’s out-of-bounds plays. In the end, this game was won and lost by the players, not Calhoun and Dixon.

3. The Huskies need Jerome Dyson

Connecticut played phenomenal perimeter defense for 36 minutes and then awful defense down the stretch. The three biggest shots for the Panthers were the Jermaine Dixon 3-pointer and Levance Field’s two daggers from deep. Those were wide-open looks that Pitt was not able to get for most of the game.

Whether it was a matter of misreading screens or just tired legs, Dyson would have made a difference either way. I can’t see UConn going deep into March with their current seven-man rotation. Calhoun needs to find another guard somewhere.

4. The Charity Stripe

This was the biggest surprise of the game in my mind. The Huskies rank eighth in getting to the foul line and first in keeping their opponents off the line. They are very good at drawing contact on offense and avoiding it on defense.

While Pitt is good about not sending its opponents to the line, they rank No. 264 in getting there on offense. The Huskies are also better at converting their free throws.

 Last night, Pitt went 16-of-20 from the foul line, while Connecticut went 11-of-17. Say what you want about the officiating, but the Panthers aren’t getting to the line if they aren’t at least making an effort to force the defense's hand. Pitt had a very solid offensive game plan.

In addition, Pitt fans are praying that the 80 percent foul shooting has everything to do with the team’s concentration and confidence while having little to do with luck. I’m afraid luck probably had more to do with it than we’d like.

5. I’ll say what I want about the officiating

I think it was called horribly on both ends. Maybe the Huskies got the worst of it, I don’t know. The fourth foul on Thabeet was by far the worst call of the night.

What bothers me is that the refs called it loose in the first half and tight in the second half. I just really wish these guys would pick a side of the fence and stay there. This needs to be addressed after the season.

6. Thank God Jeff Adrien had a quiet first half

Adrien still got his 13 points and 9 rebounds, but it could have been so much more. Some credit has to go to Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs, as both players made sure to keep tabs on Adrian defensively.

 I think most of it, though, was Adrien just not playing well in the first half. If he would have been a factor in the first half as well, Pitt would not have won.

7. Pitt didn’t play a perfect game, either

Gilbert Brown aside, Pitt didn’t get anything off of the bench. Brad Wanamaker played his worst basketball since conference play started. Ashton Gibbs is in a bit of a mini-slump. Gary McGhee gave us the funniest stat line of the year. One minute, three fouls. Nobody would have bet on the Husky bench outscoring Pitt’s 19-3.

The bench players weren’t the only Panthers struggling. Levance Fields made some very poor decisions and was continuously beaten off the dribble by A.J. Price and Kemba Walker. Connecticut’s guards deserve a lot of the credit for frustrating the little general but many of Fields’ mistakes were self-inflicted.

8. Sam Young

I don’t know if Sam Young is jealous that DeJuan is stealing all of the headlines or happy because now he doesn’t have to deal with as much attention.

Sam has not had the most consistent year, but he was brilliant against UConn. Sam had 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting. More importantly, everything came within the flow of the offense. This is his third big scoring game in a row. I think we can safely say he’s out of his slump.

9. A.J. Price

Being the homer that I am, I always scoffed at the notion that Price was even on the same level as Levance Fields. I was wrong.

Price absolutely murdered Fields and he played a phenomenal game, finishing with 18 points and 8 assists. On the flip side of Adrien’s poor first half, the Huskies wouldn’t have been within shouting distance of the Panthers at the break if A.J. didn’t play inspired basketball. If he can continue to hit his jumper in addition to his sound decision making, UConn will be a tough out even without Jerome Dyson.

10. My goodness, is Levance Fields clutch

As my favorite color man Bill Raftery would say, “The young man has onions!” How many players have the confidence to shoot the big shot at the end when they haven’t scored all game? Make no mistake about it, if Levance misses those shots at the end and Pitt loses, we’re talking about how he was the goat. Lucky for Panther fans, that thought never crosses his mind.

It is understandable that the big men would dominate the headlines but this game was so much more than a great low post match-up. I will remember this game for so many more reasons other than DeJuan Blair being a monster. I just hope that the performances of Fields, Price and Young do not get lost in all of this. This was a phenomenal game between two teams, not just DeJuan Blair and Hasheem Thabeet.