Insiders College Basketball Report

Panthers hanging on to slim lead in the Big East standings, with two games to play.

GETTING INSIDE
St. John's had stunned Pittsburgh and the Panthers had West Virginia coming into their house behind the Johnnies. Coach Jamie Dixon had a situation on how to approach practice.

"There wasn't panic. There wasn't any 'we're horrible' talk," Dixon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The first thing we did was give the players two days off -- Sunday and Monday. Your initial thought might be to pound 'em and run 'em into the ground. But we were banged up. We did some good things at St. John's. We just emphasized two things that we had to do better -- rebounding and turnovers."

Dixon also had a pair of aces up his sleeve. If his team was hurting, he had fresh players who could play off the bench, surprise players in Lamar Patterson and J.J. Richardson.

In beating West Virginia, he used both and they played key roles. Redshirt freshman Lamar Patterson, who entered the game averaging 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, scored a career-high 11 points with five assists, two blocks, a steal and no turnovers in 22 minutes.

Sophomore J.J. Richardson, who hadn't scored since a Dec. 18 game against Maryland Eastern Shore, was 1 for 1 from the field and had two points and two rebounds.

"Lamar played really well," Dixon said. "He's a big part of what we've been doing. He just keeps getting better and better. I thought he really let things come to him, didn't force any passes. Just made the simple play. It was very good minutes for a freshman. Between him and Jonathan Moore, we have two very good wings coming off the bench. I'm really excited about their futures."

The 6-7 Richardson can play power forward and center. With forward Talib Zanna is out of the lineup for the next few weeks his playing time will increase.

"He's very physical and plays hard," Dixon said of Richardson. "He hasn't played a lot of minutes, but he's getting better and he works really hard. He'll give us some physicality, but he can put the ball in the basket, too."

"It's a great opportunity," Richardson said. "I've been waiting for it. For it to come now, at this point in time, with the team we have is a great thing."

The West Virginia win proved to be a big one for the Panthers lost their next game at Louisville, so it kept them from having to deal with a late-season losing streak.

NOTES, QUOTES
--F Gilbert Brown broke out of a 1-for-9 3-point shooting slump over four games by hitting all three of his first-half 3s against West Virginia, the best team in the Big East defending 3s.

--Reserve F Lamar Patterson scored a career high 11 points against West Virginia after having played just four minutes and not scoring against St. John's.

BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- With 12 rebounds against Louisville, G Brad Wanamaker needed one more to become the second player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists, joining former guard Carl Krauser.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'll tell you what I find to be kind of a joke. Every once in a while, you turn SportsCenter on and listen to the gurus talking about Pitt being a two seed. How can (they) be a two seed? You run away with this league, which I don't think anybody disagrees is the best league in the country, and play the people they've played non-conference, how are they not a No. 1?" -- West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins on Pitt after losing for a second time this season to the Panthers.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:
--at South Florida, March 2

KEY MATCHUPS: This is a dangerous game for a Pitt team that is in the lead for the Big East regular season championship and that has to begin thinking of the conference tournament. Pitt has handled the road well and South Florida probably won't pack its arena, but the Bulls have been competitive all season, losing numerous close decisions. How Gary McGhee handles USF's Augustus Gilchrist could be the deciding factor, but McGhee has handled just about everyone this year. Pitt would figure to have too much talent if its mind is on the game and not the Florida weather.

--vs. Villanova, March 5

KEY MATCHUPS: When the schedule makers penciled this game in they had visions of it deciding the conference race. Pitt upheld its end but Villanova has fallen apart down the stretch. The Wildcats had lost four of their last six games -- three of them at home -- and closes at Notre Dame and at Pitt. A high scoring team, Villanova has failed to score 70 points in four of its last five games. The only one in which it did score 70 was an overtime game against DePaul, the worst defensive team in the conference. Gs Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes still remain scoring threats, averaging 15.5 and 15.3 points a game, respectively.

FUTURES MARKET: There is a reason Pitt is among the nation's top teams and it is because it approaches the game the game as a team. Watching the Panthers play is a lesson in teamwork. They showed it off well in the West Virginia and Louisville games as there were assists on 35 of the Panthers' 49 baskets with Gs Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall and F Lamar Patterson combined for 28 assists with just 9 turnovers. "We played off two feet," Wanamaker said. "Coach always preaches that. The three of us like to pass the ball since we're more or less playmakers on this team. When we are able to get other guys involved our team is the best it can be."

PLAYER NOTES:
--F Gilbert Brown needed 15 points, after scoring 20 against Louisville on Feb. 27, to become the 40th Pitt player -- and the third this season -- to reach the 1,000-point plateau for Pitt.

--F Gilbert Brown, C Gary McGhee and G Brad Wanamaker were selected to attend the 58th annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, April 6-8 in Portsmouth, Va.

--G Talib Zanna had surgery on his broken right thumb on Feb. 18 and is expected to miss three to six weeks. He is probably out for the year.


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