Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jamie Dixon, Pitt Sow Seeds of Final Four in Garden Victory

NEW YORK -- Twenty-five basketball seasons ago, Jamie Dixon beat Texas by dribbling up court and launching a last-second shot from about 35 feet for -- Swish! -- a one-point victory.

Dixon then played for TCU. Now, he coaches the Pittsburgh Panthers, who needed a different ending to a similar play Friday night to secure a 68-66 victory over the Longhorns at Madison Square Garden.

They got it when Cory Joseph of Texas dribbled up court after a missed Panthers' free throw with 11.3 seconds left. Guarded by Pitt's Travon Woodall, Joseph hurried a long, one-handed scoop shot while off balance with about five seconds to go.

A three-point field goal would have given Texas the win and a two-pointer would have meant a tie, but the ball soared nowhere near the rim. After a scramble, it was taken by the Panthers, who clinched the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches against Cancer. Pitt is 5-0 and ranked fifth.

"He was kind of frustrated the whole game," Woodall said of Joseph. "I know he's a freshman. I was trying to get him out of control."

Woodall said there was contact on the play but not enough for a foul against him. Woodall is only a sophomore but, like most of his teammates, plays with savvy.

Joseph said "the ball was in my hand, and it just didn't happen. It's just a learning experience."

Coach Rick Barnes of Texas said the plan was to get the ball to the rim, take a short shot and go for rebounds. "It just didn't work for us," he said. "We've got a young group of guys."

"I'm one of the best scorers on the team. It was time to step up."
-- Ashton Gibbs
High scorer for the Panthers was guard Ashton Gibbs with 24 points. He praised his teammates for setting screens and seemed sincere, inviting them to join him when honored as the tournament's most valuable player.

But he showed no false humility, either. "I'm one of the best scorers on the team," Gibbs said. "It was time to step up." He began the game with a team-best 17.8 points per game.

Jordan Hamilton of Texas had 28. Although Pitt was out-rebounded, 37-35, Barnes praised Dixon's players for maintaining poise and discipline.

"Pitt's a team that really understands their roles," Barnes said. "They do a lot of details. How many seniors they got? That has a lot to do with it.'

Pitt has four seniors and four returning starters from a team that went 25-9 last season and wants to reach at least the Final Four this spring for the first time in Dixon's eight seasons.

Dixon has depth. He used 11 players Friday, seven for at least 15 minutes. With Woodall spelling guards Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, Dixon mixed it up for the Texas defense.

"We can put different guys at different spots in different situations," Dixon said.

His players wear uniforms of a deep hue of blue, as in bruises. They battle beneath the backboards and make contact elsewhere as well. They got under the skin of J'Covan Brown of the Longhorns, who scored 14 and needed help holding his temper.

When someone asked Dixon about "winning ugly," he first joked that such a charge must refer to his appearance, then added "It's better than losing ugly, I guess -- or losing pretty."

Later, Dixon reflected on Feb. 22, 1986, when TCU beat the Longhorns, 55-54. Due to YouTube, his ``Miracle'' play -- as it is known in Fort Worth -- has new viewers.

"I thought I had lived it down," Dixon said, "but it's been revisited and brought back to life."

The video shows him making contact with three Longhorns, including the last defender as Dixon throws up a one-handed jumper.

In a post-game interview, smile wide across his face, the young Dixon says ``I thought I got fouled a couple times but they didn't call it. I didn't even see the basket.''

Reminded of those words Friday, Dixon said ``I was complaining back then and it hasn't changed much since.'' As he said it, his face broke into a similar smile. This season, as then, Dixon has reason to feel good.

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