Not Getting Easier
Pittsburgh,Pa - Following a tough road loss to a ranked opponent, Pittsburgh's undefeated run is over. If coach Jamie Dixon's team is looking for some relief, it's not going to come anytime soon.
Only two days removed from their first loss, the No. 1 Panthers return to the Petersen Events Center on Monday to face an eighth-ranked Syracuse team coming off an emphatic win.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Pittsburgh –8 point spread favorites for Wednesday’s game against the Syracuse. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 52% of more than 163 bets for this game have been placed on the Pittsburgh -8.
Pittsburgh (16-1, 4-1 Big East) won its first 16 games, but that portion of its schedule included only one ranked opponent - then-No. 11 Georgetown, which it dispatched 70-54 on the road on Jan. 3.
The Panthers got past conference lightweights St. John's and South Florida at home after beating the Hoyas, but that concluded of the easy portion of their schedule. They kicked off a stretch of four of five games against ranked teams Saturday at Louisville, and it looked like win No. 17 was on its way as they led by 10 points in the final nine minutes.
However, Pitt's DeJuan Blair went to the bench for five minutes after picking up his fourth foul, and the Cardinals closed the game on a 24-8 run to win 69-63.
Despite the tough finish, senior point guard Levance Fields chose to look on the bright side.
"This game will help,'' said Fields, who had an uncharacteristically high six of Pitt's season-high 20 turnovers. "Nobody wants to lose, but it's always good to get a loss on yourself so you know you're not unbeaten - so you know somebody can beat you.''
Fields came into the game leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, but he wasn't the only Panthers star to struggle. Limited to 20 minutes by foul trouble, Blair had nine points - 5.3 below his average. Leading scorer Sam Young, who averages 18.4 points, had 14 while shooting 6 of 20.
Dixon, like his point guard, simply wants his team to move on - particularly with Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and Notre Dame awaiting in the next two weeks.
"Our guys always want to play,'' Dixon said. "We learned from our 16 wins, we've got to learn from our one loss.''
If Pitt is to avoid back-to-back losses, it'll likely need Young to snap out of his shooting funk. Young was averaging 19.9 points and shooting 52.1 percent from the field in his first 13 games, but has been held to 13.5 points per game on 33.9 percent shooting in his last four contests.
The Panthers' shooting will be tested against Syracuse's matchup zone, but their defense, which allows 59.4 ppg to rank second in the Big East, will also be challenged.
The Orange (17-2, 5-1) are 11th in the nation in scoring, averaging 81.5 points. Georgetown held them down on Wednesday in an 88-74 loss, but Syracuse bounced back with authority on Saturday against No. 12 Notre Dame.
Center Arinze Onuaku had 19 points to lead six players in double figures as the Orange throttled the Irish 93-74.
"It was a tremendous win," coach Jim Boeheim said. "You have to bounce back in this league. ... We had tremendous balance and that was the difference in the game."
Onuaku is making an astounding 70.2 percent of his shots, one of the major reasons Syracuse ranks among the nation's top five shooting teams, connecting on 50.8 percent of its attempts.
The Orange could use another performance like leading scorer Jonny Flynn delivered last season against Pitt. Flynn had a career-high tying 28 points at the Carrier Dome against the Panthers on March 1, though Pitt won that game 82-77 behind 19 points from Young.
The Panthers have won their last two home games against the Orange since Syracuse became the first visiting team to win at the Petersen Events Center on Feb. 29, 2004.
Posted: 1/19/09 2:0AM ET