THE DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Trietley: Team looks to use cliche in upcoming battle with opponent

Greg Trietley | April 17, 2012    

You play to win the game.

That’s why the team will look to bounce back from its last loss…. You play to win the game.

That’s why the team will look to bounce back from its last loss. The task won’t be easy for the players, though, because they play a tough opponent. It’s a game of inches, and the team that draws first blood will have the advantage.

Of course, the experienced opponent had a choice: lose the final game of the season and play the struggling franchise, or win the final game and take on the Cinderella dark horse. As the players said at the time, they didn’t care who they faced.

Needless to say, they won, setting up a marquee matchup. And there is certainly no love lost between the inexperienced Cinderella team and its tough opponent. No one is going down quietly.

It’s going to be a seesaw barn-burner; a nail-biter of a showdown. Neither team will let this chance slip away.

“We’re not looking past them,” the opponent’s coach said. “We need to stay hungry.”

Down the stretch and with the playoff race heating up, the team had a turning point. It was gut-check time, crunch time. Sitting last in the standings, the offense clicked and hit its stride. Now, the team is back on track.

“We’re not just happy to be here,” the team’s blue-collar, no-nonsense coach said. “We want to run the table. We’re peaking at the right time. Time was running out.”

The matchup against the opponent’s smash-mouth defense will be crucial. It’s do or die and for all the marbles, and both teams are on a mission. Sights are set on the championship.

The opponent’s defense will offer different looks in an attempt to keep the players on their toes. Neither program can afford any lapses in this intriguing matchup, no question about it.

One key to the team’s chances will be to shut down the opponent’s star player, who makes it look easy. A heck of a player, he’s one of the best — a scrappy winner, a crafty veteran and a passionate leader.

The star said this week that his experienced team will look to avoid the upset.

“We need to come together, control the tempo and just play our game,” he said.

Earlier this season, the star’s powerhouse team came out a little flat to start a game, struggling out of the gate. With no moral victories, the team was out-hustled and out-coached, failing to match its opponent’s intensity.

The star insisted that his teammates have put their defensive woes behind them.

“We came up short,” he said. “We beat ourselves. You’ve got to hand it to them. They finished plays and we didn’t, but we’ll put it behind us.”

The bumps in the road, though, were few and far between, as the star’s team cruised to the regular season title. And although the underdog team will try to slow the star, the opposition has more than just one great player.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” the star said. “It all starts with them.”

The team must also limit its opponent’s X-factor, who may declare early for the draft.

“He’s a steal,” one scout said. “His stock is rising. What he brings to the table, with his body presence, his upside, his potential … he’s absolutely a blue-chip prospect. He’s a class act.”

A clutch player and once a highly-touted young recruit, the X-factor has several citable statistics.

Nonetheless, the team of unknowns believes it can halt the championship run of the star, the X-factor and all the rest of the opposing team’s tremendous depth.

“We’re going to rise to the occasion,” a player, who is having a career year, said. “We’re going to rally around our guys. We’ve just got to make plays and finish our chances.”

A teammate said he’s proud to go on this run into the playoffs, especially for the fans.

“We came to play,” he said. “We brought our A game. I’m proud of our guys. They’ve pulled out the W time and time again at home. We definitely feed off the fans, give them credit. Our fans are the best.”

He added that the players can be defined in one word: resilient.

They’ve certainly had to be resilient during this rash of injuries. A couple guys are banged up and are day-to-day with lower-body injuries, although the no-nonsense coach refused to make any excuses.

This could be the last shot for the coach. He wants to get the monkey off his back and finally win the big game. Still, his focus right now is on his players.

“Everybody needs to stay focused,” he said. “We’ve shown good chemistry of late. We’re starting to gel. If we’re struggling, we’ll make adjustments. Obviously we’ll take it one game at a time.”

The up-tempo, run-and-gun, high-flying system, though, has let the team down and put the players on their heels several times this season.

“I take the blame for this one,” the coach said after one embarrassing upset last month. “I thought the refs could’ve called some things, but you have to give credit to both teams. It’s a classy organization over there. We’ll have a good practice and turn things around.”

The coach believes that with the recent hot streak, the atmosphere in the locker room entering the playoffs gives the underdog team an advantage.

“I think we have the edge mentally, psychologically,” he said. “My guys have the heart. It’s all about heart, about the will to win. That’s why we put the work in.”

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