Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers in the Zone by Switching from Familiar Man-to-Man Defense, Dixon Changes Course of Game Pitt 75, Fresno State 54

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Panthers in the Zone by Switching from Familiar Man-to-Man Defense, Dixon Changes Course of Game Pitt 75, Fresno State 54

Article excerpt

The best-laid plans are the ones that are, well, flexible enough to change if they don't work out. That was the position Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon apparently took Tuesday night at the Petersen Events Center, where the Panthers eventually rolled to a 75- 54 victory against Fresno State.

The Bulldogs had their way with the Panthers early, so Dixon quickly scrapped the ferocious man-to-man defense he has built his program on and switched to a 2-3 zone.

It worked nearly to perfection in the first half, catching the Bulldogs -- and just about everyone who has watched Pitt the past 12 years, including the crowd of 8,543 -- off guard.

The Bulldogs hit their first three shots, including two 3- pointers, and led, 8-2, before Dixon changed defenses. Suddenly, the Panthers turned impenetrable on defense.

That sparked a 14-7 run that put Pitt ahead, 16-15, with 10:17 left in the half. From there, the Panthers allowed Fresno State one more basket -- a 3-pointer by Allen Huddleston -- before halftime.

Pitt led, 35-18, at the half and both coaches pointed to the unexpected switch to the zone as the biggest factor in the game.

"Pitt is a program that has hung their hat on defense and rebounding for a long time," Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. "But they did something that we didn't expect or see a lot from them. They have been a man-to-man team, but they did a great job with their zone.

"[The zone] affected us. We didn't do a good job of attacking it and we didn't take advantage of it in the first half. We didn't expect them to play it as their primary defense. They have used it in inbounds situations but not for an extended period of time."

Dixon said he began to consider using more zone a few years ago when the 3-point line was moved back a foot and used it more last year for a variety of reasons.

He said the combination of personnel and the new emphasis on foul calls and hand-checking has made it clear to him that they could play a lot more zone defense this year and this was a good time to start. …

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