GETTING INSIDE The Panthers have shown the ability to sneak up on the rest of the Big East this season. In a year in which Pitt wasn't supposed to contend for the conference title, it began the season with five straight wins and a berth in the Top 25.
That's in part because of the team's resilience, epitomized last week by both a game and a particular player.
Pittsburgh handed Louisville what Cardinals coach Rick Pitino called the worst loss of his coaching career, outside of the Christian Laettner game back when he coached at Kentucky. The Panthers trailed by five at home with 54 seconds to play, but came back to force overtime and then won in the extra session.
And one of the heroes was a guy who at one point looked to be either a career benchwarmer or a likely transfer candidate.
Bradley Wanamaker spent his first two years on campus struggling for playing time. When Levance Fields graduated after last season, few were excited about Wanamaker getting the extra minutes. But the junior has been solid in the backcourt this season and forced the extra session against the Cardinals with two free throws with less than two seconds to play.
Wanamaker and the Panthers may not be as impressive as the 2008-09 team, which included current NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young in addition to Fields. But on the court, there's been very little drop-off from a year ago, and Pitt again looks to be a contender.
--A big factor in the Panthers' victory over Louisville was the strong performance at the line. Pitt made 24 of its 30 free throw attempts, including Brad Wanamaker's pair with less than two seconds left that forced the overtime, and Ashton Gibbs' key makes with the Panthers clinging to a one-point lead with 16 seconds left in the extra session.
--Pitt's comeback against Louisville preserved what is now the nation's second-longest home winning streak. The Panthers have won 31 games in a row at the Peterson Events Center, second to Kansas for the best in the country.
ON THE SPOT: It's still hard to know how well the Panthers will do against a committed press because Louisville didn't break out the Rick Pitino special that often when the teams met last week. The Panthers have a lot of ball-handlers, but will be challenged this week by both Georgetown and Seton Hall.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think we're a target. I think there are still some people who doubt us. We just need to keep on playing hard in practice and taking it into the game.'' -- Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs, after the victory over Louisville.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Panthers continue to roll through the Big East in a season in which they were expected to be a non-contender, knocking off Connecticut and Louisville to improve its record to 5-0. Pitt has risen into the Top 20 in the polls, sits atop the conference and is unbeaten since Gilbert Brown and Jermaine Dixon returned to the rotation six games ago.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Brad Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall.
Pittsburgh 74, Cincinnati 71
Pittsburgh 67, Connecticut 57
Pittsburgh 82, Louisville 77 (OT)
vs. Georgetown, Wednesday
at Seton Hall, Sunday, Jan. 24
vs. St. John's, Thursday, Jan. 28
at South Florida, Saturday, Jan. 31
at West Virginia, Wednesday, Feb. 3
IN FOCUS: The Panthers will be playing a desperate Seton Hall team that needs a win to get back into the Big East and NCAA Tournament race. A key for Pitt will be neutralizing Herb Pope, which for many Seton Hall opponents has meant taking the ball right at him and getting the sophomore in foul trouble. When he's out of commission, the Pirates are a much less dangerous team inside, though either way the deep Seton Hall backcourt will pressure the Pitt guards and prove to be a challenge on the perimeter.
--F Nasir Robinson has been a forgotten man much of the season even though he's a starter, as the sophomore usually sheds the spotlight in favor of one of the more offensive-minded starters or his backup Gilbert Brown. But Robinson didn't just lead his team in scoring against Louisville -- his 26 points marked the most any Panther player has scored all season.
--G/F Gilbert Brown was a surprising non-factor against the Cardinals on offense. He went scoreless for the first time since March 7 of last season, when he failed to score in 18 minutes against Connecticut.
--G Brad Wanamaker tied his career high with a 20-point day against Louisville, and did most of his damage at the free throw line. He went 11 of 12 from the stripe, including two big makes with less than two seconds to play in regulation that forced overtime.
Pitt Basketball Notebook
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