Sunday, February 21, 2010

#19 Pitt Avenges Elite Eight Loss To #3 Wildcats, 70-65, at Petersen Events Center

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Sunday, the #19 Pittsburgh Panthers avenged their heartbreaking upset defeat, at the claws of the Wildcats in last season's Elite Eight.  They were trying to erase the legacy of Scottie Reynolds, and how he had so memorably vanquished them, with his legendary layup at the buzzer in Boston, that sent Villanova to its first Final Four, in 24 years - and which Pitt has never reached has not reached, since 1941... (thanks to the anonymous commenter, below, who called my attention to that error...)

And so today, the Panthers themselves pulled a major upset.  The visiting, #3 Wildcats were themselves vanquished, 70-65, in front of a delirious, record-setting crowd at the Petersen Events Center.  For a valuable viewpoint from a Pitt perspective, check out this piece from Chas, the publisher of the distinguished Pitt blog Pitt Blather...)

The numbers show that the Wildcats played reasonably well enough to win, particularly during a late rally which drove up their scoring totals and scoring percentages.  But having watched the game and taken an overall impression of it - Villanova simply did not look that impressive today, except when it came to field goal percentage defense, holding the Panthers to a miserable 35.1% from the floor.

So why did the Wildcats seem so out of sorts?  Pitt controlled the tempo, holding down Villanova's possessions, making it difficult for the Wildcats to get into the transition game they prefer, and score easy baskets.  The Wildcats managed just 23 points in the first half, and appeared to be hard-pressed to reach 60 for the game, prior to the late flurry of threes.  (The Wildcats hit five of their nine three-point attempts, in the second half.)  And even with those late buckets, the high-octane Wildcat attack, averaging 83 points/game heading in, still mustered just 65.

Villanova also did not get to the foul line often, an increasing theme in these defeats.  The Wildcats took only 16 free throws (some of them provided in the final minute, when Pitt, as the team with the lead, should not have been fouling), against 34 for Pitt.  The Panthers capitalized on the free points, too - they hit 26 of them, an outstanding 76.5%.

Pittsburgh improved to 10-4 Big East, 21-6 overall, and will obviously move up from its current #19 spot in tomorrow's AP poll.  The #3 Wildcats lost their second straight contest, for the first time since 2008, falling to 11-3 Big East, 22-4 overall.  They will obviously be occupying a place lower than third, come tomorrow's poll.

One likely casualty of this loss, is the dream of attaining a #1 ranking in the weekly AP poll - something which no Villanova team has ever done.  With four losses now, and just three weeks left in the regular season, Villanova would need to sweep its four remaining games, and hope that Kansas, Kentucky, Purdue, Duke, and Kansas State slip up (although the Wildcats at least have their own chance at beating Syracuse).

Grabbing one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament, which seemed eminently attainable a week ago, is now seriously endangered, with difficult games @ Syracuse and hosting West Virginia still remaining.

Wright, who recorded his 200th win at the helm of the Main Line with the triumph over Providence back on February 13, is now 0-4 against Pittsburgh on the road, with his third loss at the Petersen Center (his first was at Fitzgerald Field House).  It was Pitt's first victory over Villanova since 2008, having lost the last two contests - the lone regular-season meeting last season, and the Elite Eight game.

All-time, Villanova now leads Pitt, 32-28, but the Panthers lead 22-20, in regular season Big East games.  The Villanova lead stems from remarkable success in the Big East tournament against Pitt, as Villanova is 6-2 there.

I must say, that given that this was our first CBS game, since last year's Final Four loss to North Carolina, that I really enjoyed the classic "Road to the Final Four" music, as well as the fine commentary from the "A" broadcast team of Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg.  With the snow finally melting in winter-weary metro Philadelphia, the music, the voice of Greg Gumbel, and the top-notch CBS edits, graphics, and fan reactions - one can (at long last) see spring on the horizon.

Probably the most enjoyable moment of today's broadcast, came when CBS showed one of the most exciting endings in Villanova's postseason history:

Namely, the Howard Brown three-pointer - at the buzzer in double overtime - to oust Pitt in the 1998 Big East tournament (teammates Brian Lynch, Rafal Bigus, and John Celestand were also visible in the clip, as well as the old jerseys, with the burgundy trim in the Block "V"s on the side of the shorts).

And of course, nobody minded seeing Reynolds drive coast to coast, and the ensuing shot of the Villanova bench spilling onto the court in celebration, in the play that Dante Cunningham noted "never works in practice".  (However, I hadn't seen the Howard Brown shot in many years, so props to CBS for finding it.)

Looking at the Box Score

The most glaring number in the box score were the offensive rebounding totals.  Although Pitt won overall rebounding by just a 40-34 margin, the Panthers corralled 21 on the offensive end, compared to just a dozen for Villanova.  In a game decided by five points, the multiple 2nd-chance points for Pitt made the difference.  It didn't help, that some came when Pitt was trying to thwart a Villanova rally, and kept missing free throws - but also kept getting the rebounds, and a fresh 35-second shot clock.

The problem wasn't Reynolds.  Held to just three points prior to intermission, he reverted to his normal pattern and dropped in 17 in the second half, many during the late charge.  His 20 points came on 6-11 shooting, 6-7 from the line, and making two of his three shots from beyond the arc - and in just 26 minutes. While he also dealt three assists, he did commit half a dozen turnovers.

Corey Fisher was whistled for two quick fouls, just over a minute into the first half, and spent a great deal of the game on the bench in foul trouble.  However, Fisher did atone for the mistakes by scoring a dozen points on 5-9 shooting.   But Reynolds and Fisher were the only two Wildcats to reach double digits.

Corey Stokes hit some shots during the late charge, enough to make the Bayonne Bomber Villanova's third-leading scorer, with nine points, on 4-9 shooting overall - but just 1-6 from three-point range.  His shooting struggles continue.

With Fisher in foul trouble, Wright reversed his recent trend, giving freshman point guard Maalik Wayns some extra minutes.  Wayns was serviceable, logging 15 minutes, scoring four points, collecting one rebound and one assist, and no turnovers.

Antonio Pena managed to keep himself on the court for most of the game, playing 34 minutes, tied with Stokes for the team high, despite four fouls.  He just missed a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds.

Taylor King came off the bench to play 18 minutes, finishing with five points and half a dozen rebounds, as well as making two key triple to propel the late rally, before fouling out.

Reggie Redding played his role, playing 30 minutes before fouling out, winding up with six points, four rebounds, two assists, and two turnovers.

One interesting decision by Wright was to give Mouphtaou Yarou just a single minute at the end of the first half, while giving Maurice Sutton three minutes.  Isaiah Armwood provided his usual defense in 11 minutes, getting four rebounds, but not scoring.

For Pitt, which entered the game with four Panthers averaging double figures, there was a balanced attack.  Ashton Gibbs, their best player, had a game-high 21 points on 5-10 shooting overall and 9-12 from the line, although the outstanding free throw shooter missed three of four in the final minutes, continuing to provide Villanova oxygen.  Gilbert Brown came off the bench, to score 16 points on 5-9 shooting, in just 24 minutes.  Jermaine Dixon had a dreadful game shooting, going just 3-15 from the floor, scoring nine points and grabbing half a dozen rebounds in 37 minutes.  Pitt Blather had noted Gary McGhee's progress in the middle; he finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, with an incredible eight of those coming on the offensive glass.

The Game Action 

Villanova's sole lead - at any point - today, was at 9-8, after a triple from Fisher.  Pitt reclaimed the lead on a jumper from Dante Taylor to make it 10-9; the Wildcats would never even tie the game, after that, despite remaining within striking distance, throughout the contest.   

Pitt's first-half lead peaked, twice, at 10 points; after that, the Wildcats got it down to four, twice, in the final 1:39 of the half.  The Wildcats did not have a good possession when holding for the last shot, trailing 29-23; they didn't start the offense until there were only eight seconds remaining (i.e., too late to get a rebound), and Pena did corral the rebound off a Wayns miss, but time expired before Pena could capitalize on it.

Villanova reduced the lead to two, 34-32, after play resumed.  Pitt expanded the lead to 42-34 on a triple by Brown with 12:09 to go, just before the under-12 TV timeout.  Reynolds counterattacked with triples on consecutive possessions; Lundquist noted that he had been held to three points in the first 28 minutes, but had six in the last 56 seconds, and Villanova was back within two, 42-40.

Pitt responded with a 6-0 run, extending the lead to 48-40; King fired back with a three, but Gibbs answered with a three, as the lead expanded back to 51-43, with 6:35 to play.  Villanova counterattacked with a 6-0 run of its own, and Pena laid it in to cut it back to two, 51-49, with 5:00 remaining, and causing Jamie Dixon to call a timeout.

The Panthers were able to maintain a small lead, and the Wildcats appeared to be finally defeated when Brown dunked, electrifying the crowd and giving Pitt a six-point lead, 60-54, with 1:29 left.  Then Pitt decided to keep the Wildcats in the game with fouls and poor free throw shooting.

Redding inexplicably decided to commit his fifth foul against Gibbs, Pitt's 90% free throw shooter, trailing just 62-58 with 56 seconds left.  While Gibbs missed both of them, however; Reynolds lost the ball to Gibbs in transition, sending Gibbs back to the line, where he missed one of the two (i.e., Pitt's 90% shooter missed three of four in the final minute, far more than Villanova fans could have imagined).  So Villanova now trailed just 63-58; Pena was fouled underneath at the other end with 31 seconds left, and after Pena drained both, the edge was just 63-60.

Brown made just one out of two, so Villanova trailed by just four, and got it to Reynolds, who missed a driving layup - and King fouled out, sending Travon Woodall to the line, who made a pair.  With a 66-60 lead with 12 seconds to play, Reynolds was fouled using his typical get-the-opponent-in-the-air pump fake, and hit all three shots to cut it to 66-63 with seven seconds left.  But Woodall made another pair, putting it out of reach.

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats get a brief respite, hosting South Florida on Wednesday, at the Pavilion.  But the Bulls have already upset Top 10 Georgetown, so they can't look past anybody - not after a pair of upset losses in the last week...

And if you haven't yet, take a look at the analysis of the Pitt victory, from Pitt Blather...

Go Wildcats!



Anonymous said...

Pitt has been to one final four.

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...


Thanks for the comment. I regret the error, as I strive to maintain the highest standards of accuracy on the blog.

I've changed it to reflect the correction, and noted your observation of it...