GETTING INSIDE The Pittsburgh men's basketball team has two losses since early February. Both have come to Notre Dame.
Unless both teams make it deep into the NCAA Tournament, the Panthers won't have to worry about facing their nemesis until next season.
For the second time in two weeks, Pitt fell to the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame beat Pitt 50-45 in a Big East quarterfinal round game Thursday night. Two weeks ago at Notre Dame, the Irish won 68-53.
Pitt has won eight of its past 10 games entering the NCAA tournament. It could be that Notre Dame just has Pitt's number this season. The Irish frustrated Pitt's offense and forced the Panthers into a 6-for-30 shooting performance in the second half.
Pitt shot just 38.5 percent from the field for the game.
Still, there is reason to believe the Panthers can turn things around in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers scored 70 points or more in seven of those eight wins to close the season.
"The league is so good,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "I think usually when you get a double bye, you think in most situations you're going to get a team where there is a big difference. In this league, that's not the case. The two teams with the best records down the stretch were playing in a quarterfinal game. It speaks to (the strength) of the league.''
NOTRE DAME 50, PITT 45: The Fighting Irish held the Panthers to their lowest scoring output of the season. The Panthers only scored 16 points in the second half while making six of their 30 shots from the field.
Even without much of an offense, the Panthers had opportunities twice in the final minute to tie the score or take the lead. Brad Wanamaker missed a layup with 40 seconds remaining. With 20 seconds left, Jermaine Dixon drove to the hoop but missed badly with an off-balance shot.
Pitt had only one field goal in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game. Wanamaker led Pitt with 16 points.
--Rutgers was the 17th opponent to be held to fewer than 60 points by the Panthers' defense. The 16 points the Scarlet Knight had at halftime were the fewest of any team against Pitt in Big East play this season.
--Five players scored in double figures against Rutgers: Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Jermaine Dixon, Dante Taylor and Gilbert Brown. That's the second time the Panthers have had five players with 10 or more points this season. Not surprisingly, they won both of those games.
ON THE SPOT: It will be interesting to see how the Panthers perform in the Big East tournament if Jermaine Dixon is sidelined or limited because of his ankle injury. The team has experience playing without him, but since recovering from his foot injury he has again become an integral part of the Pitt plans on both ends of the court.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to go back to practice and continue to improve. We've been doing that all year and we're certainly not going to stop now. We'll take care of our bodies and get back to work.'' -- Coach Jamie Dixon, on his plans for the team heading into the Big East tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Panthers swept Providence and Rutgers to finish the Big East regular season with a 13-5 record. That put Pitt in a three-way tie for second place and earned it the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and a two-round bye to the quarterfinals.
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 71, St. John's 64
Pittsburgh 73, Providence 71
Pittsburgh 83, Rutgers 54
Notre Dame 50, Pittsburgh 45 (Big East tournament quarterfinals)
NCAA Tournament vs. Oakland, Friday
POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: Pitt had been in good position to land a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, but losing to Notre Dame might bump the Panthers to a No. 4 seed.
The Panthers will now lick their wounds and wait to see their fate on Selection Sunday. It will be interesting to see what the selection committee does with the top teams from the Big East that all lost their first tournament games. Syracuse and Villanova also were one-and-done, and it might be hard to justify downgrading one team and not another.
--Leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, who came into Thursday's game averaging 16.2 points per game, was held to four points and only attempted four shots. It was only the fifth time all season that Gibbs was held to single digits.
--Junior C Gary McGhee, who averages 7.2 points per game, was held scoreless for the first time this season. McGhee was 0-for-2 from the field against Notre Dame and played only 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
--Jermaine Dixon was 0-for-3 from 3-point range against Notre Dame. He is now 14-for-64 on the season from behind the 3-point arc.
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