I don’t know why for sure, but when the game reached halftime I felt extremely confident that my DVR-delayed viewing of Pitt-Cinci was going to end the right way. Maybe it was seeing Pitt score the final basket of the half as Cinci let up after a score. After seeing it happen in the first meeting with Cinci and the Michigan game, having Pitt down at the half but getting the bucket to keep the game closer felt positive.
Maybe it was that outside of Sean Kilpatrick there wasn’t much to Cinci’s offense in the first half. He was 15 of their 31 points and take his shooting out of the equation and the rest of the Bearcats were only 6-19 shooting and 1-6 on 3s. And with Cashmere Wright playing through an injury, there just isn’t anyone else on the Bearcats picking up the slack.
“The kid is giving everything he’s got,” Mick Cronin said. “He’s playing hurt and he’s giving everything he’s got.”
Sean Kilpatrick sympathizes with his friend.
“I don’t know how his body feels,” Kilpatrick said. “He’s probably feeling it worse than anybody else. He’s a shooter and that’s what’s going to happen sometimes. He can’t let it affect his game.”
The scary thing for UC is that unless Wright gets his game back, there doesn’t seem to be another player on the team capable of picking up the slack and functioning as a scorinig complement for Kilpatrick. One thing’s for sure. Kilpatrick can’t do all himself. Just look at his one-point second half Saturday after he scored 15 in the first half.
Or maybe it is simply that this Pitt team has just kept on winning this month, and I’m starting to expect them to finish games.
Last month, Cinci had the bravado and swagger claiming to be a team that wore down others. As I noted then, there are limitations to that style, and it has been coming back hard on them in recent weeks. This game being yet another example.
They thought they could grind Pitt in another game. That only goes so far. If you can’t score, the limitations become obvious. And it doesn’t matter how good a game you play in other aspects. That offensive inefficiency wears on a team and leads to more breakdowns as happened in the second half.
“We missed a lot of open shots,” Cronin said. “That’s going to happen. It would be nice if somebody would get an offensive rebound. We went 15 minutes without an offensive rebound in the second half. That’s ridiculous. You can’t win when that happens.”
The Bearcats (18-6, 6-5 in the Big East) have lost two in a row while averaging 51 points, shooting 34 percent from the field, and 18 percent from long range.
The biggest adjustment Pitt made in the second half was going zone on defense. Eliminating the penetration and kick-out for shots. If Cinci wanted to keep firing from long-range it was going to be with a hand in the face. Not from getting ball movement and an open look.
Cincinnati (18-6, 6-5) shot 30 percent, making only five field goals after halftime. The Bearcats were 4 for 25 (16 percent) from 3-point range and did not have an answer when Pitt coach Jamie Dixon went to a zone defense for long portions of the second half.
“The zone was something I thought we would use, but I didn’t anticipate using it that much or having that amount of success that we had with it,” Dixon said. “We’ve been working on it a lot. Tonight, it came in very handy. In the second half, we went to it and stayed with it. We limited their penetration.”
Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick scored 15 points in the first half and the Bearcats led, 31-26, at halftime. But Kilpatrick had a hard time getting open in the second half. He scored one point in the final 20 minutes and missed all seven of his field-goal attempts.
“They were getting everything in the first half off penetration and kick-outs to him,” Patterson said. “We just had to guard our men better in the second half and limit the penetration.”
There were articles going into the game about how similar Pitt and Cinci have looked at times. Pitt spoke of adjusting to what they saw from Cinci in the first meeting. In this case, the Bearcats inability to handle the zone was much like Pitt back in the beginning of January. Pitt, however, has gotten better at handling the zone. Cinci — not so much.
This was a big game for Tray Woodall. Not simply for his career statistical achievement. He helped lead the team to the win in the second half.
Woodall became the seventh player in Pitt history to score 1,000 points and dish 500 assists, thanks to his willingness to take and make big shots when the Panthers needed someone to step forward.
Woodall scored eight of his team-high 14 points in the final seven minutes to propel No. 23 Pitt to a 62-52 comeback victory over No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday night in a Big East game before 12,478 at Fifth Third Arena.
Woodall reached the milestone when he made two free throws with 4:03 remaining to give the Panthers a 51-48 lead. It was fitting, considering he missed the front end of a one-and-one with Pitt trailing by three in the final minute of a 70-61 loss to Cincinnati in the league opener Dec. 31.
“I wanted to step up and knock those two free throws down,” said Woodall, who now has 1,003 points and 547 assists. “I’m not going to lie. I definitely had the 1,000 points in the back of my mind. I’m glad it’s out of the way now. There’s no more pressure. I’m just happy we came out with the victory.”
And for Steven Adams as well.
That’s why I think Adams’ offensive development could be a major factor in the title hunt. On Saturday, Pittsburgh’s freshman 7-footer finished with 13 points and four blocks. He was an offensive and defensive presence for the No. 23 Panthers, who held No. 17 Cincy to a 30.8 percent clip in a 62-52 win. In a league with a group of teams that are so close to one another, Adams’ offensive growth is a factor. Pitt is good enough to win the rest of its games, especially with its final three matchups against squads (Villanova, South Florida and DePaul) that have combined to win eight conference games.
Not just showing a scoring touch, but seeing the court.
Cincinnati cut it to 54-51 when Adams dished a backhanded bounce pass to power forward Talib Zanna for a thunderous dunk with 1:35 left.
“In the huddle, (Adams) was saying that they were going to double-team him, so we told him to make sure to be patient and not think too far ahead,” Woodall said. “He was patient enough and dropped off a beautiful pass.”
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was furious about the defensive breakdown
“It’s inexcusable, just inexcusable,” he said. “It’s against a zone. A guy got a dunk against our zone. Our rule is the five man never leaves the rim when we are playing a zone.”
And it’s worth noting that Talib Zanna re-emerged in this game with some efficiency. Going 4-6 from the field, getting to the free throw line and scoring 11 points.
This team isn’t a world beater. It isn’t going to dominate. Yet it keeps getting just a little better each game. Improving. Growing. Giving hope for something more.