The Panthers' second opponent, Illinois-Chicago, looked like it would be an easier matchup than its opening opponent, Rhode Island. That was indeed the case as Pitt rolled to a 43-point win.
Pitt faced UIC in the second game of the 2K Sports Classic for Coaches Vs. Cancer and won handily, 97-54.
The outcome was never really in doubt. In Pitt's opener against Rhode Island, we saw what happens when Pitt doesn't play their best. On Wednesday, we saw what happens when Pitt actually plays well. The team only had six turnovers, shot 60% from the field and made more than 50% from three-point range. And for the second straight game, it was the guards, Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs, leading the way:
Wanamaker had nine assists, and Gibbs had seven. Gibbs was 5 of 10 from 3-point range and Wanamaker made his only attempt as Pittsburgh was 11 of 21 from beyond the arc, a significant improvement from its 3 of 16 against Rhode Island.
"I was taking advantage of what the defense was giving me," Gibbs said. "I tried to find open spots and when I did, I knocked down 3s."
Gibbs, coming off a 22-point game against Rhode Island, is averaging 23 points and Wanamaker is averaging 20.5.
"I'm more of a driver and a playmaker and Ashton's a spot-up shooter, but he's been creating his own shots so it makes him more dangerous," Wanamaker said. "When you have two players constantly attacking you, it puts people on their heels."
Jamie Dixon knows his starting guards are off to a great start this season:
"I really like our perimeter, it's a strength of ours," Dixon said. "They're getting other guys shots and making shots, and that's a good combination. The numbers don't lie."
UIC head coach Howard Moore also obviously noticed Pitt's guard play:
"Wanamaker just said he’s going to get in there and make plays, and get to the rim and find teammates," Illinois-Chicago head coach Howard Moore said after the game. "He absolutely did that. Gibbs was like an assassin out there offensively. I thought they did a tremendous job playing off each other."
It's only two games, but if Pitt's guard play keeps this up, I may change my stance about the team being able to get to a Final Four. These guys have looked amazing and one thing you need to advance deep in the tournament is good guard play. Pitt's clearly getting that so far.
But it wasn't just guard play that killed UIC - it was, as predicted, rebounding. I mentioned in the preview to the game that UIC was one of the worst rebounding schools in the nation last season ranking near the very bottom with a -6 differential. It looked like they'd struggle in that area against a good rebounding team and that's exactly what happened. The Panthers nearly doubled up UIC in rebounds (45-25) and was particularly better in offensive rebounds (11-3).
Moore was at the helm for his first game and saw maybe the best team he'll play against all season:
``That's a talented, talented team we played,'' Moore said. ``Obviously, we play very good teams in our league. But, let's face it, those bodies we saw out there tonight, that's big-time basketball.''
And he was more than willing to give Pitt credit:
"You have to give Pittsburgh credit; they came out with a fierce, competitive effort," said head coach Howard Moore. "We did some good things early - we disrupted some of their sets, and got some stops in certain situations. But they (Pitt) hurt us on the glass, and we got into a hole, which grew to 14 points at halftime.
"It’s very difficult. You have big bodies like center Gary McGheein there trying to disrupt you and be a force inside. He does a great job. I recruited him when I was at Wisconsin. I thought he could have been a great Big Ten player, but he’s a great kid. He’s really bought into what coach Dixon wants him to do. I thought Pitt did a good job of just playing outside inside basketball. When McGhee and Dante Taylor get going in the post they are tough. Because you have to worry so much about the guards it really leaves that middle open. When those guys get the ball inside they are pretty effective. I thought they did a good job of playing inside outside basketball."
As I mentioned, this game was a perfect example of what Pitt can look like when its running on all cylinders. The team won't always going to have nights when it shoots well, rebounds well, and doesn't turn the ball over, but when that happens, they'll be nearly impossible to beat.