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February 20, 2008Several days after Pitt's third double-digit loss of the season, the team was able to do something rather unique:
Hold a practice with a double-digit number of players.
That was the case when the Panthers, four days removed from a 72-54 loss at Marquette, took the floor for practice on Tuesday.
"We had a good practice today and we were able to do some things [because] we had more bodies than we've had probably in two months," head coach Jamie Dixon said after practice. "Cassin [Diggs] was able to practice today, which I was surprised by, and we had our three walk-ons here today. That gave us twelve guys, and we were able to do some stuff that we weren't able to do in two months; so that was encouraging."
In addition to playing with a dozen players, the Panthers' Tuesday practice was also one of the longest of the season; by all accounts, it was also an intense workout, presumably aimed at bouncing back from Friday night's 18-point defeat.
"Guys really wanted to get after it today after the loss to Marquette," senior guard Ronald Ramon said. "We wanted to respond and we wanted to come out with intensity and get after it the way we we're used to and get on track."
Diggs, who hasn't appeared in a game since January 2nd due to a groin pull/hip strain, wasn't the only player to return to practice on Tuesday. Freshman center DeJuan Blair strained his left MCL at Marquette on Friday; as such, he was limited in the three days following the game.
"I took a charge and [the Marquette player's] knee came to the side of it," Blair said Tuesday. "Luckily I hopped out of the way or it could have been worse.
"It wasn't anything big or major, but it hurt a little bit. It wasn't my first time with this. I did it earlier in the season and didn't tell anybody about it, but it just happened to be in the flow of the game.
"I haven't been playing hurt, I've just been icing it. It wasn't anything, just a little sprain. I'm not worried about it."
While playing high school ball at Schenley, Blair had surgery to repair torn ACL's in each of his knees, leading Pitt team physicians to be extra cautious when it comes to that part of the standout freshman's body.
"I had an x-ray [Monday] and they said it was good. But you know me with the knees; whatever it is, I have to go see [the doctors] about it," Blair said.
Dixon said that Blair's past experiences with knee injuries aren't relevant to the current strain.
"He looked fine today. Simply put, he got hurt in the early part of that game. It was a totally different injury from what he's had in the past."
While Pitt was at near-full capacity with 12 practicing players, junior point guard Levance Fields did not practice on Tuesday. Fields sat out seven weeks with a fractured left foot before making his return in Friday's game at Marquette; he played 20 minutes in that game and scored 4 points in 1-of-7 shooting, but he also suffered a foot injury on his first offensive possession, and that latest injury has kept him off the practice floor since the game.
"The X-rays looked good, but he was obviously bothered and sore from the Marquette game," Dixon said. "He got hurt on the first play; it wasn't a re-injury, it wasn't the same thing. [He had] a soreness in the foot, which I think is natural when you don't play for eight weeks, and we're about on eight weeks right now. I think that's pretty foreseeable."
What's not entirely foreseeable at this point is Fields' availability for Thursday's game at Notre Dame.
"It's always going to be up in the air," Dixon said. "It's not so much the bone; that's fine and the healing has taken place as we anticipated and it's very good. Other things come with not playing and not being on your feet for seven weeks, and I think it's just a normal thing where there's going to be soreness, and there's going to be discomfort. I think that's what he felt, soreness, but nothing on the bone from where he injured it before. Early in the game when he went down and the guy fell on his foot, that's where he got the soreness, and as the game went on and afterwards, it was far more painful to him."
"He's doing a great job competing and taking care of himself out there," Ramon said of Fields. "And he's a competitor, so whenever he's out there he's going to play 100%, so he's going to give his best.
"Games are different than practice, but Levance is a player and he's going to go out there and compete, so I'm not worried about it."
Chris Peak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org