For the first time this season, Pitt is facing some adversity, and it is coming at a most inopportune time.
Ashton Gibbs, Pitt's leading scorer, is out of the lineup with an MCL injury and is likely to miss Saturday night's highly anticipated primetime contest at No. 9 Villanova. After scoring 25 points in a win against Cincinnati, Gibbs woke up Sunday morning with swelling in his knee. He is expected be out of the lineup for 10-14 days.
Pitt (22-2, 10-1 in the Big East) held a two-game lead over Notre Dame and a 2 1/2-game lead over Villanova and Louisville through Monday. But Villanova has two games against Pitt this season, one on Saturday and another at Pitt in the regular-season finale.
The Wildcats can put some pressure on the Panthers by holding serve at home Saturday night. Without Gibbs in the lineup, the Panthers likely will rely on their tenacity on the offensive boards to produce points.
That's exactly how the Panthers beat West Virginia on Monday night. They grabbed 18 offensive rebounds to help beat the Mountaineers 71-66 on a night when the starting backcourt of Travon Woodall and Brad Wanamaker combined to shoot 9-for-24 from the field.
Look for the Panthers to continue to stress rebounding and defense without Gibbs at their disposal.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Without Ashton Gibbs, the top 3-point shooter in the conference, the Panthers were 1-for-6 from 3-point range in the win at West Virginia. That lone 3-pointer was by Travon Woodall, who had gone three games without making a shot from behind the arc. Woodall is shooting 31 percent from 3-point range. Without Gibbs, the Panthers won't attempt as many 3-pointers, but they are going to need Woodall and others to step forward and pick up some of his slack.
--Using a potent second-half offense and a dominating effort on the backboards, Pitt won at West Virginia, 71-66. After shooting 29 percent in the first half and scoring just 23 points, the Panthers responded with a 48-point second half to improve to 5-0 on the road in conference play. Nasir Robinson led the way with 15 points.
--In nine years at the Petersen Events Center, Pitt's record was a scary 146-12, .925 through Feb. 5. It was 61-11 against Big East teams and it had won 52 of its last 54 home games entering the week.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The number of 20-point games this season for G Ashton Gibbs.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Villanova, Feb. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: The key player in this game may be Villanova's Antonio Pena, a big man who is going to have to find a way to score and rebound inside to counter the physical game the Panthers like to play. Villanova will try to force the pace in the game to take advantage of its guard play from Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns, who average a combined 45 points a game.
FUTURES MARKET: It is about time to start giving coach Jamie Dixon some recognition. Whenever there are discussions of the best college coaches in America, it's always the same old names coming up -- Boeheim, Calipari, Calhoun, Huggins, Izzo, Williams, Krzyzewski. But Dixon has by far the best winning percentage in Big East play of any coach at .708 and is one of three coaches in history to reach 200 victories in eight years. He also ranks fourth for most wins in eight years and is only halfway through his eighth season.
--Senior center Gary McGhee just can't seem to get past unlucky 13. For the fourth time this season, McGhee tied his career high of 13 points in Pitt's victory against West Virginia. He has scored 13 in four of the last 10 games and two of the last three.
--Nasir Robinson has scored in double figures twice in the last two games after being held to single digits in four consecutive contests. Robinson is 13-for-22 from the field in the last two games, including a 7-for-12 performance against West Virginia.
--G Lamar Patterson was suspended before the Cincinnati game. Coach Jamie Dixon issued the following statement: "Lamar Patterson will be suspended for tonight's contest against Cincinnati for disciplinary reasons. The one-game suspension stems from his involvement in a December incident that took place off campus."