Pitt-Villanova Preview

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon believes this might be among the more balanced Villanova teams that the Panthers have faced in recent years, but the Wildcats are still dominated by one area.

"The names have changed, but really their style of play and what they do is the same,'' Dixon said. "They've got guards who can take you off the dribble. Their undersized big guys play bigger and can score around the basket or step out.

"They play very hard. They're aggressive. They're well-coached, and they're experienced. You can go through their roster, and every guy is a guy that we've recruited at one time or another. So, we're very familiar with them.''

When No. 3 Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-1) faces No. 21 Villanova (15-4, 3-3) in a Big East matchup tonight at 7 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia it will be the 58th meeting in the series. The Wildcats hold a slight 30-27 advantage overall, but the Panthers are only 5-17 all-time in Philly.

"We've had some good games against them, but how we've played lately has just showed how mature our team is,'' Pitt sophomore guard Bradley Wanamaker said. "When the game got rough at WVU, we just stuck together and pulled it out at the end. We're looking pretty good on the court right now.

"I think we panicked a couple times last year, but that doesn't happen this year. This team seems to have more unity and trusts each other more, and we're able to pull games out in the second half. And we've seen that we could do it, so that helps us do it again when we need to. It gave us more confidence.''

Pitt freshman forward Nasir Robinson believed the game plan would be simple against Villanova.

"We just have to execute more than them and do a good job on the boards,'' Robinson said. "We have to watch their guards, too, because they have good guards, but as long as we win the battle on the boards we should be all right.''

Wanamaker, Robinson, freshman Ashton Gibbs and redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown have given Pitt solid minutes off the bench at both ends of the court. For Wanamaker, that's quite a turnaround from his rookie year when he appeared to be overwhelmed more times than not.

"We're very confident coming off the bench now,'' Wanamaker said. "Every time that we can come in and make plays, that helps us out for the next time. We know we can do it. We've done it, so that means we'll be able to do it again.

"And when we keep making plays like that, you feel real good about yourself. (And) I think Villanova will play a lot like West Virginia did, maybe a little more man. But they can switch up to the zone the same way that WVU did.

"(And) I don't think they're as much guard-oriented as before,'' Wanamaker added. "They have some good guards, for sure, but Cunningham gives them some post scoring, more than usual for Villanova.''

Dante Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, leads the Wildcats with 16.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. And junior lead guard Scottie Reynolds is next at 14.7. The remaining front-court players include 6-6 senior Dwayne Anderson (6.3 points, 5.5 rebounds) and 6-8 sophomore Antonio Pena (7.6, 6.2). Reynolds back-court mate is 6-5 junior Reggie Redding (6.7, 4.6).

Sophomore guards Corey Stokes (10.1, 3-2) and Corey Fisher (9.9, 2.2) are solid off the bench, while senior forwards Shane Clark (4.2, 3.2) and Frank Tchuisi (1.3, 1.2) provide front-court depth.

Notes: NCAA basketball says farewell to the Spectrum with tonight's game. ... The Spectrum was host to the 1976 and 1981 Final Fours and was the site of Christian Laettner's legendary buzzer-beater shot from near half-court when Duke defeated Kentucky in a 1992 NCAA regional final. ... This is Villanova's first appearance at the Spectrum since 1998, where it is 30-28. ... The Wildcats beat Pitt, 75-72, Jan. 30, 1991, at the Spectrum. ... Several Panthers are ranked among national leaders in various statistical categories. Sophomore center DeJuan Blair is fourth in rebounding (12.7) and leads the nation in offensive rebounds (5.9), according to StatsLLC (the NCAA does not rank top offensive rebounders). ... Blair is also ranked No. 18 in field-goal percentage (59.0). ... Senior point guard Levance Fields ranks second nationally in both assist-turnover ratio (3.54) and assists per game (6.9), while senior forward Sam Young is rated 49th in scoring (18.8).

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