Pitt Needs A Win

The Pitt men's basketball team has had a disdain for losing, and in the past seven seasons there hasn't been too much disappointment.

So, one can imagine just how badly Pittsburgh wants to win after three straight losses dropped the Panthers deep into the Big East Conference standings.

Pitt (19-8, 7-7), in eighth place in the Big East, has a chance to move up with a win against Cincinnati (13-13, 8-6) Wednesday night at 7:30 at the Petersen Events Center. The Bearcats won 62-59 earlier this year in Cincinnati. That game followed a big win against then No. 5 Georgetown and started a 10-game skid during which Pitt has gone 4-6.

"It's a different situation than we've ever been in, but there's a reason for it,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We didn't play well enough to win. (But) we hope that our best basketball is in the future, and I hope it starts this week.''

There are plenty of reasons why Pitt is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The guards have not shot the ball well. The bench has provided little in the help of minutes or productivity, and the team in general has failed to come up with big plays at crucial times.

When those areas have been lacking in the past, and it happened more often than not, the Panthers were able to rely on a hard-working, opportunistic and stingy defense. But that effort hasn't been there too often this season. Pitt has allowed more than 70 points in each of the past three games. In 20 Big East games last season, Pitt allowed that many points three times overall with one coming in overtime.

"Right now, we're struggling bad on the defensive end,'' senior guard Keith Benjamin said. "We just don't know what it is. We have the athletes. We have the physical players. No one is scared. I guess it's more focus and digging deep and wanting to get a stop and make the winning defensive play. (But) I guess they just wanted it more than we did in those last three games.''

Cincinnati hasn't been as good as it was against Pitt during that Jan. 19 game. The Bearcats are led by sophomore point guard Deonta Vaughn with 17.2 points per game, while senior forward John Williamson is at 10.6 points.

Adam Hrycaniuk, Cincinnati's 6-foot-10 senior center, scores seven points per contest and had a big game against Pitt in the last meeting. The other key players are senior shooting guard Marvin Gentry, freshman forward Rashad Bishop and senior guard Jamual Warren.

Cincinnati isn't among the top offensive teams in the Big East, 14th with an average of just 64.8 points per game, but Syracuse (78.3) and West Virginia (75.6) -- two of the final four opponents -- are among the offensive leaders.

It should help Pitt that junior point guard Levance Fields is back to nearly full strength. While his shot has been in question since his return, his defense has been solid. And it should improve with his health.

"With Levance back out there, we feed off his energy,'' junior forward Sam Young said. "He's a leader and brings a lot of stuff, as far as knowing the game and knowing where everybody should be, and he's also a voice out there when other guys maybe don't want to talk. So, he's a real leader for us.''

Fields spoke negatively about his offensive output since he returned, but everything else has been solid.

"I'm shooting bricks,'' Fields said. "I played a good floor game, but I couldn't make anything out on the perimeter. The outside shooting is a big concern, because we're 0-3 in those games. But we've got to start stringing it together. And we've got to get it together for Cincinnati.

"We're just trying to get a win. ... It's never fun losing, and we're all mad and frustrated about it. But I feel that we're getting closer to where we need to be. (And) Wednesday is a big one. Cincinnati already beat us at their place, so we just want a win. We knew this would be a tough final stretch, but we have to get things turned around and get a win as soon as possible to get us going.''

After the Cincy contest, Pitt has just one more home game -- the finale with DePaul March 9 at noon at the Petersen Events Center.

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