GETTING INSIDE Pittsburgh is a win away from locking up a top-four seed and a double-bye in the Big East tournament. It enters the week with an 11-5 record, and needs just one win in its final two games against Providence and Rutgers to get there.
The Panthers can thank their bench for a lot of that success. More than many other Big East teams, Pitt counts on its bench for significant minutes and production.
In part, that's because Gilbert Brown is technically a reserve. The redshirt junior forward averages 25 minutes per game, contributing 10.8 points and 3.1 rebounds a night.
But for the team to win, the Panthers need contribution from others as well. Against St. John's, with Ashton Gibbs, Bradley Wanamaker and Jermaine Dixon battling foul trouble early, freshmen Travon Woodall and Dante Taylor combined for 10 first-half points and even senior Chase Adams added a 3-pointer.
Taylor, in particular, is a player Jamie Dixon is looking for during this final stretch of the season. The highly-touted freshman went through a four-game scoreless streak earlier in the Big East season, and isn't playing as much as he did in nonconference play, but he's talented enough to be a difference-maker off the bench in March.
That could help alleviate the damage if one of the Panthers frontcourt stalwarts gets injured or finds himself in foul trouble.
--Jamie Dixon won his 185th game as a head coach in the Panthers victory over St. John's. That puts him third on the all-time list for coaches through seven seasons, and he's just two behind Everett Case for second place and three behind Mark Few for third.
--Once again, the Panthers relied on its defense to seal the deal against the Red Storm. St. John's became the 22nd opponent in 29 games this season to be held to fewer than 70 points.
ON THE SPOT: The Red Storm outrebounded the Panthers 37-34 on Saturday, continuing a disturbing trend. Pitt has lost the rebounding battle in six of its last nine conference games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The bench has been a strength of ours. They're a young group, but they're getting better and better.'' -- Jamie Dixon said last week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Pitt rebounded from a loss to Notre Dame earlier in the week by beating St. John's on Saturday. With an 11-5 Big East record and two games left to play, the Panthers control their own destiny in its quest for a top-four finish and a double-bye in the conference tournament.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Bradley Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall.
Pittsburgh 70, Villanova 65
Notre Dame 68, Pittsburgh 53
Pittsburgh 71, St. John's 64
vs. Providence, Thursday, March 4
vs. Rutgers, Saturday, March 6
at Big East tournament, March 9-13
IN FOCUS: The Panthers need just one more victory to secure a top four seed and a double-bye in the conference tournament. It would love to do so against the struggling Friars on Thursday, though Providence is a strong offensive teams with a number of weapons that will test the always-stellar Pitt defense.
--Nasir Robinson scored 13 points against Pitt, including one key stretch in which he was the Panther offense. Robinson scored the Panthers' first nine points of the second half.
--Chase Adams had a key 3-pointer in the Panthers victory over St. John's. It was the first time the reserve guard had scored in a Big East game since the team's game against Seton Hall on Feb. 6.
--Gilbert Brown has been on a streak of consistent inconsistency in his offensive production over the past eight games entering the week. His scoring totals beginning with the Feb. 3 game against West Virginia: 0, 23, 6, 16, 5, 16, 3, 13.
Pitt Basketball Notebook
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