Five things we learned from Pitt's key Big East victory over UConn
Ashton Gibbs' 21 points headlined Pitt's sensational night, but the real story was the Panthers' offensive balance. Four players went for double figures, and Travon Woodall came up just one short with nine. They dominated the Huskies from the opening tip and never trailed in the Big East opener. Their 15-point margin of victory was the largest over UConn since their 74-56 romp in the 2003 Big East tournament final.
The most surprising threat was Nasir Robinson, who netted 11 points in his first start since undergoing knee surgery. Gibbs characterized him as "a good energy guy", something Robinson showcased with an array of driving baskets and a dynamic steal at the end of the first half that sent the student section into a frenzy.
Gary McGhee outmuscled the Huskies for 11 points in the paint, and forward Gilbert Brown added six of his own.
"We're a very versatile team," said Brad Wanamaker, who went 5-of-8 from the field for 14 points. "Each player can step up and contribute."
Walker's brilliance through the first 10 games covered up many of the Huskies' ongoing problems. Most notably, they have no legitimate scoring option behind him. There was a nearly seven-minute stretch in the second half when he was the only one who scored for UConn, and he often seemed to be alone on the court, forcing up highly contested threes and circus-type layups. Walker had 31 points on 10-for-27 shooting. The rest of the team had just 32 points and went 9-for-33 from the field.
The Huskies also struggled defensively. They allowed Pitt to shoot 5-of-11 from beyond the arc, further weakening a three-point defense that ranks 299th in the nation. They surrendered a number of open, mid-range looks to Gibbs, Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown, and gave up 30 free-throw attempts throughout the contest. If UConn doesn't upgrade its perimeter defense quickly, it could be similarly pummeled by guard-heavy Villanova and Georgetown.
"I'm not sure if he was better sitting or playing," Jim Calhoun said of his sophomore forward after the game. He may have had a point: Oriakhi scored just eight points in 19 minutes, sidelined for the majority of the first half after picking up two early fouls.
He showed glimpses of greatness earlier in 2010, averaging 16.5 points and 14 rebounds in consecutive victories over Michigan State and Kentucky. His inside work served as the counterpart to Walker's outside play, creating space that allowed Walker to exploit defenses for eye-popping statistics.
Oriakhi was a nonfactor on Monday though. He recorded just one rebound that didn't come until the 4:11 mark in the second half. He and frontcourt teammates Charles Okwandu and Enosch Wolf were pushed around by Pitt's bigs all night.
Despite Pitt's dominance in nearly every facet of the game, UConn was still within striking distance late and could've sliced the lead to six if Walker connected on a wide-open three from the corner with less than four minutes remaining. This isn't the first time the Panthers have had trouble finishing, as they let Texas erase a six-point deficit to attempt a game-tying layup as time expired in their earlier 68-66 win.
With showdowns against Georgetown, Syracuse and Notre Dame in the coming month, the Panthers better learn how to close. Otherwise, they could be facing some heartbreaking, and largely undeserved, losses.
While Cameron Indoor Stadium and Phog Allen Fieldhouse have more storied pasts, Petersen Events Center is quickly developing a reputation as one of the nation's most intimidating venues. The Panthers are 142-11 all-time at the arena, and have won 47 of their past 48. UConn's just 1-5 since the building opened in 2002.
The entire student section sported shirts that read "This is Our House." Cliché? Yes. But that doesn't make it any less true.