Feb. 10, 2003
Losing makes me sick. It really does.
We spend just about all of our time during the season trying to prepare our guys to win games. Breaking down tape. Watching film. Individual workouts. Lifting weights. Conditioning. Scouting reports.
Everything we do is for those 30 nights where we get to throw the ball up and compete to see how good we really are.
So when we are having trouble winning games, it is very hard to deal with. We put in all this time and effort, but the evaluation of our work is very cut and dry - you either win or you lose. So by definition, when you lose, the job you are doing preparing isn't good enough.
The week started off well for us after a good team win with against Virginia Tech. We started with practice on Monday morning at 6 am so our guys could get to class before we headed to Pittsburgh. We were a little concerned about our energy level, but our guys seemed excited about the chance to play on national TV against a top 5 team.
Pittsburgh doesn't try and trick you. You know they are going to play very physical man-to-man defense and a deliberate, high-percentage offense. They have great balance with 6 guys averaging over 9 points per game, and there numbers are great. They lead the country in offensive field goal percentage, and they are in the top 10 in defensive field goal percentage. Games like this on the road get you excited because they are a big-time challenge.
We felt like our press could wear Pittsburgh down and keep us out of the half-court game that they are so good at. With Julius Page out for the game with a bad ankle, they also weren't very deep in the backcourt and that gave us more confidence in our press.
As we were arriving at the game 1 ½ hours ahead of time, there was a line of students heading down a hill from the arena onto campus trying to get in and get the best seats. When we got into the building the students were there and they started riding our guys right away. We could tell it would be a great atmosphere to play in.
Their new building is ridiculous, and the student section is right on the court. The seats are flatter so that the prime seats behind them can see over standing students, and they have two VIP rows and luxury suites right behind the benches.
So, if you want to build a new arena and you have 100 Million laying around, you should go visit Pitt.
We started out moving the ball well on offense and we got pretty good looks. We were going inside to Ryan, and we felt like our press was getting them a little bit out of their rhythm. When they did set up in their half court offense we were having trouble guarding them inside.
We needed the press to come through for us, and at halftime we still felt we could wear them down. We played very well in the second half until about the 4 minute mark. We battled back to tie the game on the road against a top 5 team. We felt at that point that it was a one possession game - one possession in favor of either team could determine the outcome of the game.
We proceeded to turn the ball over on those crucial "one possessions" and they turned them into points. We had shot 55% from the field in the second half against one of the best defensive teams in the country, but when we had to we couldn't get a bucket.
It was our third straight league loss that we felt came down to one or two crucial possessions, but there are no moral victories in this game. Moral victories do not get you into the NCAA Tournament. We could take a lot of positives out of the Pitt game, but the bottom line is we didn't get it done.
The Connecticut game was a really big game for us, and to get beat the way we did was really hard to swallow. We came out with great energy and fire, feeding off the crowd and jumping on them at the start. It's a shame to see us play so poorly in front of a crowd that I really felt was ready for a big day. The students came out in force, and there was an early buzz in the building. I actually saw the students racing to their seats one hour before game time, as soon as they were let in the doors.
Sitting on the bench during games like this one is really, really hard. We were a step slow on defense, we weren't making shots on offense and we didn't do a great job on the boards. It was just a helpless feeling, trying to find some combination that might give us a spark. And on such a big day, with the building ready to explode, it was that much more disappointing.
So where do we go from here? The good news about this deal is that the kids usually bring you back. They are young and resilient, and we really are fortunate to have good kids. When we hit the floor for practice tomorrow they will be ready to work hard and we will have a plan to get better. Getting on the floor and working with them is usually a good remedy.
A tough stretch like this usually simplifies things - we need to beat BC. That's it. There is no looking ahead or trying to figure out who will beat who or where we can end up in the East division. We need to beat BC. That is all we have.
Unfortunately BC has figured a few things out since we last played them. And if you think about it, they probably have 3 of the top 10-12 players on our side of the Big East, and if the league ended tomorrow Troy Bell would have to be the league MVP.
So it won't be easy, but it should be fun. It's a challenge and we have two days to find a way to meet it.