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March 6, 2012

Pitt ready for the gauntlet

Pitt's chances of making the NCAA Tournament for an 11th consecutive season hinge exclusively on the Panthers doing something they haven't been able to do all year:

Defeat five Big East teams in a row.

The Panthers' longest winning streak against conference teams this season stopped at four, but now they're facing the unenviable task of running the table in the Big East Tournament this week. That would mean defeating five conference opponents in five days, something only one team - Connecticut last year - has been able to accomplish.

But the natural difficulty in making such a run is even more daunting considering the health of Pitt's players. Senior Nasir Robinson (knee) and redshirt junior Tray Woodall (abdomen) have had to miss practice time throughout the conference schedule due to injuries that will only truly heal with rest.

If Pitt makes the miracle run of five games in five days, there will be no time for rest for either of those starters.

"We'll see when it comes," head coach Jamie Dixon said on Monday when asked if Robinson and Woodall could survive that stretch. "They haven't practiced five days in a row, that's for sure. They haven't been on the floor five days in a row. So we'll see where it goes."

For Robinson and Woodall, there really isn't a question of whether or not they can make it through that kind of gauntlet.

"You have to," Woodall said. "You have to just tough it out and show how tough you are. He's a tough and I like to look at myself as a tough guy and just go out there and just play. We just have to be ready to go every day. No excuses."

Of course, questions about the health of Woodall and Robinson in a five-day grind are hypothetical. More realistic is the question of whether or not Pitt as a team can play well enough to make that kind of run. After all, these Panthers finished the regular season 16-15 overall and 5-13 in the Big East.

"We're real motivated," Robinson said Monday. "We've had some good practices, we're going in with the right attitude, and we'll just take it one game at a time. It's a new season and we've got a new attitude and a new record."

"We just want to leave everything on the floor," Woodall said. "In the '08 class, we don't have a Big East (Tournament) win in the Garden. So we want to go out and get the first win under our belt and leave it all on the floor. A lot of teams in this tournament don't have [anything] to lose, and we're one of those teams, so we're just want to go out there and leave everything on the floor."

Pitt opens Big East Tournament play on Tuesday with a 2 pm tipoff against St. John's. If the Panthers win on Tuesday, they will face Georgetown on Wednesday; a win against the Hoyas would lead to a game against Syracuse on Thursday.







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