Pitt defeated Illinois-Chicago handily – mostly due to its guard play and rebounding.
Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker led the way for the second consecutive game with a combined 41 points. Both are averaging more than 20 points on the season. After the game, Gibbs and Wanamaker talked a little about their strategy:
“I was taking advantage of what the defense was giving me,” Gibbs said. “I tried to find open spots and when I did, I knocked down 3s.”
Gibbs, coming off a 22-point game against Rhode Island, is averaging 23 points and Wanamaker is averaging 20.5.
“I’m more of a driver and a playmaker and Ashton’s a spot-up shooter, but he’s been creating his own shots so it makes him more dangerous,” Wanamaker said. “When you have two players constantly attacking you, it puts people on their heels.”
Clearly it’s only two games, but both players are on a roll. Good guard play is something that’s needed to advance deep into the NCAA tournament and so far, Pitt is getting it.
“Wanamaker just said he’s going to get in there and make plays, and get to the rim and find teammates,” Illinois-Chicago head coach Howard Moore said after the game. “He absolutely did that. Gibbs was like an assassin out there offensively. I thought they did a tremendous job playing off each other.”
Moore was also impressed with Pitt’s big men and, surprisingly, also recruited Pitt center Gary McGhee while he was a coach at Wisconsin:
“You have big bodies like center Gary McGhee in there trying to disrupt you and be a force inside. He does a great job. I recruited him when I was at Wisconsin. I thought he could have been a great Big Ten player, but he’s a great kid. He’s really bought into what coach Dixon wants him to do. I thought Pitt did a good job of just playing outside inside basketball. When McGhee and Dante Taylor get going in the post they are tough. Because you have to worry so much about the guards it really leaves that middle open. When those guys get the ball inside they are pretty effective. I thought they did a good job of playing inside outside basketball.”
Rebounding was the other key to the game. UIC ranked 327th in the country last season with a -6 rebounding differential per game. Since crashing the boards is such a strength for Pitt, this looked like it could be a mismatch. That was the case as Pitt outrebounded UIC 45-25.
Pitt played nearly perfectly in every facet of the game. The team shot about 60% from the field, rebounded extremely well, and only turned the ball over six times. When the Panthers play that well, they will be nearly impossible to beat.
For more post-game analysis, check out the post-game report at Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.