Pitt veteran guard Dixon wants redemption

February 20, 2010|By John Grupp | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When Jermaine Dixon's friends back home in Maryland would replay video of Pitt's 78-76 loss to Scottie Reynolds and Villanova in last year's Elite Eight, a pained Dixon would avert his eyes or leave the room.

"I played in it," he said. "I know how it went."

No. 19 Pitt (20-6, 9-4 Big East) will play No. 3 Villanova (22-3, 11-2) for the first time since that fateful March night in Boston, as the two teams meet at noon Sunday at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

Two of the Pitt players looking for a small, if not measurable, chance for redemption include Dixon, who made two critical mistakes in the final minutes, and forward Gilbert Brown, who was the last line of defense when Reynolds made his game-winner in the lane with 0.5 seconds to play for one of the NCAA Tournament's most dramatic shots.

Reynolds, regarded as one of the great villains by Pittsburgh sports fans, said the Panthers' faithful still give him heartfelt, if not good natured, grief.

"I've run into a lot of Pitt fans over the past year, and, um, I've heard a lot of things," Reynolds said, laughing. "It's part of the game. We have great respect for last year's Pitt team, great respect for the Pitt team this year. We know how physical and tough they are."

The Pitt players have more immediate goals -- a high NCAA Tournament seed, beating another top-5 team at home and moving up the Big East standings. And, Dixon said, they can shrug off the 'Nova loss, perhaps because any other reaction would be too excruciating.

"That's something we joke around with Gil, how Scottie Reynolds made a bucket on him," Dixon said. "That's something Gil's going to see when he's 80 years old. When I'm an old guy, I'll watch (a replay) then. Until then "

Still, Dixon wants another shot at Villanova for his late-game lapses as Pitt -- and Dixon's beloved former teammates -- missed a chance to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1941.

With Pitt leading, 67-63, with the ball and 3:05 to play, Dixon turned the ball over near midcourt.

Villanova's Dwayne Anderson drove for a basket, and Dixon fouled him to lead to a three-point play.

After Levance Fields' two free throws tied the score, 76-76, with 5.5 seconds to play, Dixon misplayed the 'Nova inbounds pass, freeing Reynolds for his winning, weaving drive.

While there was plenty of blame to go around -- and even without Reynolds' heroics, overtime was imminent -- Dixon shouldered the blame.

His job? Don't let Reynolds get behind you.

But with 'Nova on the verge of a five-second violation, Dixon broke to deny Reynolds. Reggie Redding beat the clock with an in-bounds lob pass to Dante Cunningham, who flipped the ball to a full-sprinting Reynolds.

Like a cornerback who gambled on an interception, Dixon was beaten.

Five seconds later, so was Pitt.

"It was my fault," Dixon said. "Scottie Reynolds just broke on me. I was in front of him, and he broke on me and got a catch, and he made the layup."

Dixon, a 6-foot-3 guard regarded as one of the best defenders in the Big East, was asked what he would do differently.

"Not deny the ball," he said. "That was my fault. I should have let him the catch the ball closer to (Pitt's basket), instead of getting in front of him and giving him an easy lane to their basket. I shouldn't have denied him the ball."

Dixon downplayed the rematch this week, but there's little doubt the tough Maryland kid -- brother of former Maryland guard Juan Dixon -- who fought back from two foot injuries had this game circled for a long time.

"We're going to feed off that Sunday," junior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "We know he's going to come out and play his hardest, so we're going to play our hardest."

John Grupp is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached at 412-320-7930 or via e-mail.

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