John Johnson shoots a 3-point basket during the second half.
Nov. 11, 2011
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh guard Travon Woodall would prefer to go by "Tray" this year.
If he keeps shooting the way he did in the 10th-ranked Panthers' 89-56 win over Albany on Friday, "Trey" might be more appropriate.
"I felt good, I'm working on something, working on my shot," Woodall said. "I know a lot of guys will be keying on Ashton."
The Great Danes included.
Albany spent all week trying to find ways to slow down Gibbs, the preseason Big East Player of the Year. He still scored 21 points, though it was the superb play of his backcourt mate that turned heads.
"Halfway through that game I thought Gibbs was wearing (Woodall's number) the way Woodall shot the ball," Albany coach Will Brown said.
Woodall's previous career-high was 19 points against Wichita State two years ago as a freshman. He's spent much of the last two seasons trying to get the ball to his more heralded teammates.
Yet the Panthers are rebuilding a bit in the frontcourt, meaning they will have to rely on Woodall and Gibbs if they want to repeat as Big East regular-season champions.
The duo appears up to the task, looking for each other regularly on a night when Pitt's 15th straight season opening win was never in doubt.
The Panthers needed all of 5 minutes to open a 10-point lead, the advantage quickly ballooning to 24 before Albany could catch its breath.
"We thought if we could do a decent job on Gibbs we'd be OK because I thought Pitt would need time to find a second scorer," Brown said. "I thought it might be (Lamar) Patterson. It might be Woodall."
Even if Woodall arrived at the Petersen Events Center a little later than usual. He put the blame on teammate and roommate Dante Taylor.
Maybe Woodall should make showing up a little late a habit. He wasted no time getting going against Albany. His first 3-pointer of the game put Pitt up 20-8 and he just kept going.
When Woodall and Gibbs weren't shooting, they were setting each other up. Woodall finished with 10 assists while Gibbs had a career-high seven, consistently finding open teammates whenever the Great Danes threw two or sometimes three defenders in his path.
"I was trying to create for myself, create for others as well," Gibbs said. "At the end of the day I was penetrating and I passed the ball. It was nothing out of the ordinary and my teammates knocked down shots."
Gerardo Suero led Albany with 17 points and Logan Aronhalt added 13 points and five rebounds but the Great Danes were never in it even though Pitt played without sophomore forward J.J. Moore, who suspended for one game for playing in an unsupervised summer league game.
For one game, the Panthers didn't need him.
"We came out on offense I thought very good for a first game," Dixon said.
Forward Nasir Robinson showed no ill effects from a knee injury that limited him during the preseason, finishing with eight points and three rebounds in 23 effective minutes.
Freshman forward Khem Birch, just the sixth McDonald's All-America to play at Pitt, had a so-so debut, missing his one shot from the field but making two free throws to go with three rebounds in 17 minutes.
The Great Danes were coming off a breakthrough season under Brown. Albany went 16-16, a nine-win improvement off the season before. The Great Danes return four starters and are picked to finish fourth in the American East.
Yet they have been hit with injuries during preseason and it showed. Forward Luke Devlin didn't play for four months after undergoing back surgery and had just two points and two rebounds in 26 minutes. Center John Puk had an infection in his shin earlier in the week and went scoreless in 13 minutes.
"Those two guys are key to what we need to do," Brown said. "We got rattled early because I thought our perimeter guys would be fine. But it's the opener and they don't lose in this building."
Pitt has won 15 straight season openers dating to 1997 and remained unbeaten at the Petersen Events Center against nonconference opponents in November and December.
"We ran into a good team, a physical team," Brown said. "If they shoot that well we don't have a right being in the game with them."