Panthers Aim To Keep Streak Going

After its roughest stretch of basketball in over a decade, after three wins there's a new sense of hope about Pitt making the postseason.

It seems silly to even consider after an 0-7 start to Big East play, but hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth remain a hope -- albeit faint hope -- for Pittsburgh after a 72-66 victory over West Virginia on Monday night.

It was a third consecutive win for the Panthers after that 0-7 start. The NCAA tournament selection committee takes into consideration injuries, and the Panthers obviously are a much different team when point guard Tray Woodall is healthy.

The Panthers improved to 3-1 with Woodall in the lineup after they were 5-7 without him when he missed the better part of two months with an abdominal injury.

Pitt likely would have to go 6-2 over the final eight games, but only three of those games are against teams with winning records in conference play. The Panthers play South Florida (6-3) twice and Louisville (5-4). The other five games are against teams currently with .500 or losing records.

Next up for the surging Panthers is a home date against Villanova on Super Bowl Sunday. The Panthers have shot 46 percent or better in each of the four games since Woodall returned.

The good times could continue to roll against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 15th in the Big East in scoring defense (72 points per game).

STAR WATCH: Junior point guard Tray Woodall scored a game-high 24 points and took the game over in the final minutes of the first half to stake the Panthers to a 33-29 halftime lead over West Virginia. He scored 11 points in the final 4:27 of the half, including a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded.

Woodall is a pass-first point guard, but he is not shy about shooting. He was 3 for 5 from 3-point range and is now 23 for 53 from long range on the season.

The Panthers had just nine points in the first 12 minutes of the game, but Woodall led the charge over the final eight minutes of the half to give his team a lead it would not relinquish.

"I'm confident in myself that I can get it going," Woodall said. "I'm a creative point guard first. But at the same time I'm a leader, and if my team needs me to step up and score some baskets, I try to do that for them."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Panthers shot 46 percent or better in the first three games after PG Tray Woodall returned from injury. They did not shoot better than 44 percent in any of their first six Big East games without him.

--Pitt improved to 12-0 all-time against top-10 ranked opponents in the Petersen Events Center with a win Jan. 28 over No. 10 Georgetown and is now 16-6 against top-25 ranked teams in the venue.

BY THE NUMBERS : 10 -- The number of assists dished out by PG Tray Woodall in the Panthers' upset of Georgetown on Jan. 28, evidence that he is completely recovered from his injury and ready to lead Pitt through the second half of the Big East season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to be ready. Our momentum is going right now, and we just want to keep it rolling." -- F Lamar Patterson on going to Morgantown, W.Va., to face the Backyard Brawl rival Mountaineers on Jan. 30.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Villanova, Feb. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Villanova is used to being near the top of the Big East standings but this has been a rebuilding season for Coach Jay Wright with only three victories in the conference. Wright believes his team is improving. "We haven't been able to get those big wins yet but I believe they are coming," he said. G Maalik Wayns is one of the most dangerous guards in the conference, averaging 18 points a game while also possessing more than 100 assists on the season. The biggest problem the Wildcats have is defense, ranking next-to-last in the conference.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore C Talib Zanna benefitted from the departure of Khem Birch, moving into a starting role. A Nigerian who got himself into condition as a youth running up and down the mountainsides back home, is in there more for his rebounding a defense, although he did have a game against DePaul in which he made all eight of his field goal tries. Against Georgetown he pulled down 10 rebounds and will be needed to do that kind of rebounding more and more as the season goes on.

PLAYER NOTES
--Junior C Dante Taylor had eight points and seven rebounds off the bench Monday against West Virginia, including a three-point play early in the second half that gave the Panthers a 41-31 lead. Taylor had not been contributing much on the offensive end of late. He had just 18 points in the previous six games.

--Senior F Nasir Robinson continued his hot shooting streak, or in his case layup streak. Robinson rarely takes a shot outside the paint, and he has been remarkably good at converting those looks under the hoop the past two games. He is 13-for-13 from the field in the past two after a 4-for-4 performance against the Mountaineers.


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