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Pitt’s improving defense, problems in post on display in loss at Louisville

Jerry DiPaola
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Louisville forward Dwayne Sutton goes up for a shot between the defense of Pitt forward Terrell Brown (left) and guard Jared Wilson-Frame during the second half Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Louisville won 66-51.

There’s plenty of information to dissect following Pitt’s 66-51 loss to Louisville on Saturday. Some good, some bad.

Let’s start with the good stuff.

1. Team defense improving

Pitt played reliable defense for much of the game, holding the Cardinals to 66 points, their lowest total by 13 in seven ACC games. Louisville was averaging 83.6 points in ACC games before Saturday.

We’re not talking a lot splash plays — there were only four steals and four blocks — but solid, intense defense that held the Cardinals to 29 points in the first half.

The defense was so good Pitt came out of a 6-minute, 40-second period without a field goal only down two points.

The defense slipped in the second half, but we’re trying to be positive here.

2. Crashing the boards is working

The gang-rebounding concept demanded by coach Jeff Capel might be working.

All nine Pitt players who got on the court had at least two rebounds, led by reserve Khameron Davis, who tied a career-high with eight in 19 minutes. He had been averaging 1.9.

Overall, Pitt is still negative-two in the past four games, but it was negative-41 in the four before that.

3. Wilson-Frame finds shot

Jared Wilson-Frame knocked down four more 3-pointers, giving him a 42.8 percent success rate from beyond the arc in the most recent games against Duke and Louisville, who share first place in the ACC with Virginia.

That’s stepping up against big-time opponents.

OK, now for the bad news.

1. Freshmen guards hit rough patch

The offense is disappearing, specifically from the three freshmen guards: Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens and Au’Diece Toney.

That should surprise no one, considering they are not far removed from high school and are confronting bigger, stronger athletes in the ACC.

Johnson scored 20-plus points six times and never fell below 10 in the first 18 games. He was held to eight and nine by Duke and Louisville.

McGowens has a weird, up-and-down scoring chart, starting with 33 points in the first game against Louisville, followed by seven, 30, seven and seven.

Toney, who scored only two points at Louisville, has been in double figures only once in ACC games. Watch out for that freshman wall.

Everyone had at least one turnover, with Johnson and McGowens getting five each.

“We did not do a good job of valuing the basketball, and that’s what won them the game,” Capel said.

Johnson, the point guard, has 29 turnovers in the past five games, raising his average to 4.1.

2. Problems in the post

Pitt has been vulnerable to big men this season, especially those who offer a back-to-the-basket presence and can score above the rim.

Louisville’s 6-foot-10, 250-pound center Steven Enoch had a double-double — 12 points and 11 rebounds — after recording 14 and seven in the loss to Pitt at the Pete.

Pitt’s Terrell Brown continued to contribute around the rim with two blocks, but he and Kene Chukwuka totaled just five shot attempts and seven points.

3. The road ahead

Pitt (12-8, 2-5) is only a game ahead of last-place Notre Dame and Wake Forest in the ACC standings.

The Panthers visit Clemson (11-8, 1-5) on Tuesday, a game Pitt can win. Maybe the Tigers are saying they can win, too, considering Pitt has lost four of its past five. Clemson is coming off tough road losses to Florida State (77-68) and N.C. State (69-67).

Is it a must-win for Pitt? Perhaps, if the Panthers hope to avoid last place at the midway point of the season.

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Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.