Justin K. Aller
Things started out pleasant enough for Pitt in their game against No. 8 Cincinnati. The team built an eight-point halftime lead and the Bearcats seemed anything but a top ten team. Unfortunately, this game featured two halves and Pitt couldn't hang on, losing 70-61.
Saying Pitt faded in the second half was a bit of an understatement. The score was fairly respectable, but when you consider the eight-point lead they had in the first half, that provides a bit of perspective on just how bad the implosion was. A 17-point swing in one half is simply abysmal.
While Pitt's shooting got worse, Cincinnati's got better. The Panthers shot 49% in the first half, but only about 40% in the second. Meanwhile, the Bearcats shot about 30% in the first half, but 54% in the second. It really was a 180 for both teams and if you watched the game, it was pretty easy to see that.
So, okay, the refs were pretty bad, too. While it seemed like things were unfairly going against Pitt, the refs made some questionable calls against Cincinnati, too. I get the frustration about the seemingly lack of foul calls against Pitt in the second half, but the simple fact is that the Bearcats just made more shots down the stretch and really wanted the game more.
The key to me were the offensive lapses. Pitt had a near seven-minute stretch in the first half where they went without a field goal. It didn't hurt all that much because Cincinnati couldn't make any baskets to save their lives. But in the second half, Pitt again went about six minutes without a field goal and in the process, went from having a two-point lead to a six-point deficit. Hard to win when you have stretches like those where you can't get buckets. So many times in the game, the offense came to a complete stop and it didn't look like there was much of a plan out there.
Even playing so badly, though, the Panthers actually had a chance to come back. Pitt was down three late and stole the ball off the inbounds pass. With Tray Woodall immediately being fouled, there was a chance to cut it to one. But Woodall missed the front end of the one-and-one and that pretty much sealed the game. I've spent a large part of the season praising him for his play, but as a senior guard and the 'go to guy' (if there is one on this team), you've got to knock those down. They aren't the only reason Pitt lost the game, but with a chance to come back, Woodall's miss pretty much sealed things. Yeah, that wasn't at all frustrating.
And while Steven Adams was all over the boards leading the team with nine, he went scoreless not even attempting a shot. He took some steps forward in the non-conference games, but as I'm sure he found out today, the Big East is a whole different level. This is really going to be a bit of starting over again of sorts as I've stated before. He was definitely active on the glass, but to not even get a single shot off is a pretty clear indication that he wasn't all that comfortable in the game.
Where's this leave us? Man, I don't know. I think Pitt is still a tournament team, but the way they fell apart in the second half really raises some concerns. Why did they run out of gas? Why didn't they play with more fire? In part, some of that goes to Jamie Dixon, but the other thing is that I think we saw that Cincinnati's a pretty good team. To come in a hostile road environment, start off so poorly but rebound to win shows something. A lot, actually.
Pitt gets some nice time off with their next game not until January 5th against Rutgers. It looks like they could use it.