No. 1 seed Pittsburgh (30-4) faces No. 4 Xavier (27-7), coached by former Panthers point guard Sean Miller, in an NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen matchup Thursday at 7:27 p.m. at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Mass.
A Pitt win would tie the school record for victories set in 2003-04 and push the Panthers into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974, when it lost to David Thompson and eventual national champion North Carolina State, but there was only a 32-team field that year. This is Pitt's fifth Sweet Sixteen appearance in eight seasons, and it has never gone further since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 64-team field.
"I think we're well-prepared, and we have the talent to get past the Sweet Sixteen this year,'' Pitt redshirt sophomore forward Gilbert Brown said. "We have more offense, and we're a better rebounding team. And we still play tough defense, so we're an all-around better team with the talent to go very far.
"And if we need it, Sam will carry us. He was amazing the last game, and I expect him to continue to play well. Every time we needed a big basket, he came through. I think Sam's on a mission, and I think this team's on a mission this year. We're glad to be in the Sweet Sixteen, but we can't stop here.''
Senior forward Sam Young led the Panthers in scoring this season, and he's also been a solid rebounder. But Young carried Pitt past Oklahoma State in the second round with 32 points scored from a variety of inside moves and outside shooting. And if need be, he'll gladly do it again.
"There are certain situations in a game where I believe I need to be more aggressive, and that was the case in the last game,'' Young said. "I felt good in the first game. Really good, actually, but DeJuan was having such a dominant game that we needed to keep feeding him the ball.
"The second game, he got into a little bit of foul trouble and some other guys weren't shooting, so I felt that it was my time to take over. ... We have the mentality that we need to go hard or go home. Get right or get left (behind). And with that mentality, we definitely feel like we have a special group.''
Senior point guard Levance Fields, who said his health is not a factor now, noted that Pitt coach Jamie Dixon hasn't said anything to the team about finally getting past the Sweet Sixteen or anything like that.
Instead, he has prepped them like he has before every other game, preaching good defense, holding the opposition to less than 40-percent shooting, winning the rebounding battle by 10 or more and committing less than 10 turnovers.
"As long as we do that, play our game, it'll help us advance into the next round,'' Fields said. "And we just need to have some fun, too. You have to enjoy every game at this point, especially me and Sam and Biggs. We're seniors, and we need to enjoy each moment since it could be our last at Pitt.
"But we don't want it to end. ... Everybody knows it's survive and advance in this tournament, and that's what we've done. Sure, we had two tough games, but we were able to pull them out. We've proven we could do it, win tight games. We'd love to have a blowout, but we'll take wins how we get them.''
Pitt has had some talented teams before this one, although there's reason to believe this is the most-talented. The Panthers were ranked No. 1, a program first, for three total weeks (two different occasions). Pitt also had the No. 1 RPI much of this season, and a 30-win campaign in the rugged Big East is no small accomplishment.
"I think we're playing very good basketball right now, and I think we're on a mission,'' Young said. "But we're enjoying ourselves right now, too, because all our hard work has paid off. But we're not finished yet. We know we can be beaten in any game, and a loss now would be a big disappointment for us.
"It would mean a lot for us to get this program to the next level. This team has made history several times this season, but we have more to accomplish. We want to get past the Sweet Sixteen, but not stop there. We want to go a lot farther, and I believe we can do it. That would be a great accomplishment.''
And it would be something that no Pitt team has done before in this format.
Pitt Leaves For Boston, Sweet Sixteen
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