Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Feeling a little better about the season? I am.
Don't downplay the importance of this win. Pitt needed a victory today and got one over a pretty good UConn team. I mentioned it before, but the Huskies owned several quality wins coming into today's game having beaten Notre Dame, Michigan State, Washington, and Harvard. Coming in, their only losses had been to teams currently ranked. This is a big one for Pitt and helps put the team on a small roll as they head into some very winnable games.
Coming in, I thought the keys were shutting down UConn's trio of guards as much as possible. Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, and Omar Calhoun were accounting for nearly 2/3 of the team's points. How'd that work today? Not so well - the three had 42 of the Huskies' 61 points. Boatright, in particular, was pretty unguardable. But Pitt's balanced attack (nine players scored) proved too much to overcome.
Two big factors here. First, UConn got off to a horrible start. The Huskies shot under 30% in the first half and had to dig out of a 13-point hole in the second half. They did that and eventually tied the game up, but that had to take something out of them. Just as importantly, though - Pitt made huge plays down the stretch. Instead of wilting as they did against Cincinnati and Michigan, they hit big shots and stopped UConn at the other end.
The catalyst? Dante Taylor.
After James Robinson broke a 58-58 tie with a three-pointer, Taylor grabbed a huge offensive rebound and was fouled. He proceeded to hit not only the first free throw in a crucial one-and-one situation, but also the second. After a bad miss on Pitt's next possession, Taylor came down on the next trip and got a big bucket. That put the lead at six with just under a minute to go and essentially wrapped up the game.
Say what you will about Taylor. He's certainly never lived up to the enormous hype put on him, but as I wrote earlier this season, he's definitely contributing ... and at times, even makes big plays.
Also can't say enough about James Robinson today - he had 12 points and made some big shots, including that late three-pointer I mentioned. He also was 4-4 from the line and hit two three-pointers during the game. And while we're throwing out kudos, some should go to Trey Zeigler who quietly put together another good game and had eight points to lead the bench. He had 23 minutes and in his case, I really think the more he plays the better he'll get. And Steven Adams' team-high nine rebounds were pretty important, too.
Pitt's now 3-3 in the Big East and have a couple of games up next against Providence and DePaul they need to grab. There's a long way to go and some tougher games later on the horizon, but things are definitely looking up a bit.