First of all, I’m absolutely disgusted with the play of Sam Young. He is a good ballplayer, but he seems to think he’s some sort of NBA superstar already. Pittsburgh Panthers basketball is all about players who are willing to be a part of a team, not someone who wants to showboat for their own good. When you have a clear path to the hoop with 5 minutes left, down three points, that ball HAS TO GO IN THE HOOP. To watch Sam try and showboat was nauseating, and he should honestly be benched for a game to teach him a lesson. All he had to do was go up with two hands and drop the ball through the basket. Instead, he decided to show everybody just how “awesome” he was with a giant one-handed slam and instead gave Notre Dame all the momentum. Bricking a three-pointer he shouldn’t be taking two minutes later doesn’t help, either. Against a team with a 34-game home winning streak, the last thing to do is give them any more momentum.
Secondly, I’ve never seen a team lose their confidence and energy so quickly down the stretch. Whatever happened to the team of Duke and Washington has left completely. We’re still talented but we miss Mike Cook more than anybody could ever realize. Keith and Ronny aren’t the kind of players to keep a team’s confidence up, Cookie was the kind of guy who could stop a collapse and keep the Panthers in it. Instead, as soon as Notre Dame gets momentum with a few minutes left, we fold like a cheap lawn chair. Yes, McAlarney hit some tough threes down the stretch, but he only had 3 on the game, a number that Pitt should easily have overcome. Instead, he drops one tough trey in our faces and we completely forget our game plan. It’s like Jamie Dixon has to call a timeout every five minutes and go “Hey! Remember our game plan? Let’s play some defense!” and we do it for about 5 minutes, and start lapsing again. It’s really sad to watch, and every Pitt fan sees it coming. There used to be a point where we’d say that we hit a rough patch and could hit some shots down the stretch, but it’s now hitting a point where we go down by a few points with 2 minutes left and the fans just KNOW that it’s over. Something about the Panthers just shows that they’ve given up. It’s really just awful.
The scary thing is, how do you fix that? How do you get a team’s energy up when the other team hits a few shots? I used to have a tennis coach, up at a summer camp I went to, who would give great lectures- not just about tennis, but about sports and life in general. My personal favorite was a lecture called “Hills and Valleys.” The basic point was that in every game you’re going to have hills, and you’re going to have- you guessed it- valleys. The best players, and teams, are the ones that understand their hills and valleys, and don’t let either one get into their head. The Panthers become overconfident in their hills, and completely lose it when they go into their valleys. The best teams in the country are the ones that understand when their shots aren’t falling and go back to basics- great defense, simple offense, and ride the valley back up into a wave. The Panthers have a terrible mental game about their hills and valleys, and they desperately need someone to carry them through. I just can’t see anybody on this team stepping up and doing it. I really worry about this team for the rest of the season. See you all at the Louisville game, which really should determine our fate for the rest of the season. There’s rarely must-win games in college basketball, but the Sunday matchup is certainly one for our Pittsburgh Panthers.