Coming off deflating, one-point losses at home to undefeated Big Ten teams, Virginia and visiting Pittsburgh enter their ACC opener Friday night with similar mindsets, both looking for a fresh start.
The opening weeks have been frustrating for Pittsburgh (2-5) and the continuation of a confounding tailspin from last year. With a win over Duke in January, the Panthers were off to an 8-2 start, but they followed with just two wins in their final 12 games as chemistry issues fueled the downward spiral.
Pitt lost its best player, Justin Champagnie, to the NBA draft. Then came the transfer of disgruntled standouts Au’Diese Toney (Arkansas) and Xavier Johnson (Indiana), leaving coach Jeff Capel to retool.
With double-digit losses to small-conference schools UMBC and The Citadel, the new season is not going well thus far.
But in Tuesday’s 54-53 defeat to Minnesota in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the new-look Panthers flashed behind John Hugley, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds. Pitt was up by eight points midway through the second half but failed to score in the final 2:56 and surrendered two putback baskets in the last 30 seconds.
“We’re taking lumps,” Capel said. “But if we keep showing up with the right attitude, the right mindset, fighting for each other, positive things will happen.”
Virginia (5-3) has had its moments.
In winning the Legends Classic early last week, the Cavaliers played their signature brand of stifling defense. But Monday night in its 75-74 loss to Iowa, Virginia surrendered 53.6 percent shooting from the floor, including 10 of 21 from beyond the arc, and forced just four turnovers.
“Our defense was so poor. That was the storyline,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You gotta stand in there and have some resistance.”
When shot-blocking force Kadin Shedrick was on the floor, the Cavaliers outscored the Hawkeyes by 14 points. But Virginia slumped when Shedrick was on the bench in foul trouble, primarily in the first half when Iowa raced to a 21-point lead.
–Field Level Media