Pitt Tries to Bounce Back

Without two starters, Pittsburgh had been surviving by sticking with what it does best - hustling and outworking opponents. But in its most recent game, it did something it rarely does - lose at home.

The No. 18 Panthers look to bounce back from one of their worst losses ever at the Petersen Events Center when they host Villanova in a Big East matchup on Wednesday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Pittsburgh –7.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 69% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh –7.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The Wildcats, meanwhile, are trying to avoid losing three straight for the first time since dropping five in a row from Feb. 21-March 6, 2004.

Since Pittsburgh (16-4, 4-3) moved into its new facility in the 2002-03 season, it had gone 91-8. But in the Panthers' 100th contest in the arena, they were outscored 45-25 in the second half on Saturday en route to a 77-64 loss to Rutgers, one of the Big East's worst teams.

The margin tied the Panthers' 66-53 loss to Louisville on Feb. 12 as their most lopsided defeat in the building, and ended their home winning streak at 13 games.

"We didn't give enough effort, and we can't live with that," Pitt guard Ronald Ramon said. "We can lose games, but if we give everything on the court, we can live with that. The last game, it wasn't like that. We went out there and gave up on defense."

Pitt went 4-1, highlighted by a win over then-No. 5 Georgetown, to open this month after losing Mike Cook and Levance Fields to injuries. However, the Panthers have lost two of their last three games, including a 62-59 defeat at Cincinnati on Jan. 19.

Cook and Fields were accounting for 22.3 points and 8.0 assists per game, and it's uncertain if either starter will be able to return this season.

The loss to Rutgers prompted coach Jamie Dixon to up the intensity of his team's practice on Monday, returning to a full-squad scrimmage that had become rare since Cook and Fields went down.

"We are built on intensity and toughness and physicality, and you can't help but lose some of it in the practices," Dixon said. "There's nothing like getting after it in practice. It's what the guys wanted to do."

The Panthers have been led all season by Sam Young, one of the Big East's top five scorers at 18.3 points per game. The junior forward is averaging 11.1 points more than he did in 2006-07.

Pitt's frontcourt has been in good shape with Young and freshman DeJuan Blair. The 6-foot-7 Blair, a Pittsburgh native, is averaging 11.9 points and is among the conference's best rebounders (9.3 per game).

The Wildcats (13-5, 3-4) and the Panthers have met once this season, in Philadelphia on Jan. 6. Young had 16 points and Blair added 12 points and 15 rebounds for Pitt, but Villanova won 64-63 on Dante Cunningham's two free throws with 10 seconds left.

At that point, the Wildcats were 11-2 and ranked No. 19 in the country, but like Pitt, they have hit a rough stretch. They've lost three of five since that win and have dropped two straight, including a 90-80 home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.

The 90 points were the most allowed by the Wildcats since a 91-87 defeat to West Virginia on Jan. 8, 2006.

"This is new for us but that's part of what we're going to learn," coach Jay Wright said. "We have inconsistent play so we're trying to ride the hot hands sometimes. It's all those things we're trying to get together. I was hoping we would work our way out of it."

Villanova is led by sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds, who's averaging 17.2 points.

Reynolds' shooting was off in the Wildcats' last two games - he made just 1-of-14 from 3-point range and shot 31.3 percent overall. That followed a three-game stretch during which he shot 49.0 percent and averaged 26.0 points.

He had four points on 1-of-6 shooting against Pitt on Jan. 6.

The Panthers have won five straight at home against Villanova dating back to Feb. 12, 1997.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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