Just Too Much

There were plenty of ways to explain West Virginia's 71-66 loss to No. 4 Pitt on Big Monday at the Coliseum. There was the disparity on the glass, as the Panthers seemed to grab every significant rebound down the stretch. There was the visitors' 60.7 percent shooting in the second half. But in the end, Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins said it wasn't even that complicated.

"I can't trade them," Huggins said of his WVU players. "I could waive them, I guess, but I couldn't get anybody for them. I could sit here and lie to you if you want. Do you want me to lie to you? We just got out-manned."

A lot of Pitt's opponents might be saying the same thing by the end of the season, as the Big East Conference leader only padded its advantage at the top of the standings with a win in the first of two Backyard Brawl meetings this regular season.

The Panthers handled their business in a hostile Coliseum environment even without the services of their leading scorer, Ashton Gibbs, a point guard who is expected to be sidelined for up to two weeks with an MCL injury in his left knee.

The visitors played a complete team game in Gibbs' absence, using aggressive drives to the basket and timely put-back baskets to keep a plucky Mountaineer squad at bay.

All five of Pitt's starters scored at least nine points, and the Panthers dominated the glass, outrebounding a WVU squad that prides itself on its ability to scrap for those caroms by a whopping 40-28 margin.

"What I like about it was how we did it -- we really focused on the rebounding," said Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon. "We wanted to cut down their offensive rebounds. They average 15 in conference [play] and we cut it in half [WVU had eight].

"That was a great sign. We did really well with our rebounding and defense, and that's what we set out to do."

If Dixon was pleased by his team's ability to limit West Virginia's second chances, he had to have been equally happy with its tenacity in earning extra opportunities of its own.

Pittsburgh (22-2, 10-1) had 18 offensive rebounds. While the official count on second-chance points said the Panthers had only a 16-12 edge, those stick-backs were timely.

Seemingly every time WVU would rally within striking distance in the waning minutes, the Panthers' big men were there to earn tip-in baskets and push the advantage back up to two possessions.

Forwards Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee led that charge. They were Pitt's top two scorers with 15 and 13 points, respectively. Each had five offensive rebounds as well.

It didn't help that the Mountaineers played much of the second half with forward John Flowers, perhaps the team's best all-around athlete and certainly its best man-to-man defender, on the bench in foul trouble.

"We can't lose John Flowers," Huggins said. "If we lose John Flowers, we lose a guy who is a factor around the rim. We're not very athletic as it is, and our athleticism really takes a dive when John is out."

Without Flowers in the contest for long stretches of the second half, Pitt simply had its way offensively and on the glass.

After scoring a season-low 23 points in the first half, it erupted for 48 in the final 20 minutes -- overcoming an inspired offensive effort from a WVU squad that had struggled to put up points in recent weeks.

The Panthers made 60.7 percent of their field goals in the second half. They didn't need to rely on jump shots either, taking only two 3-pointers in the period.

Instead, they got easy shots around the basket through dribble penetration and put-backs.

"They drive it more [without Gibbs]," Huggins said. "[Brad] Wanamaker, [Gilbert] Brown, they drive it. Robinson drives it. They just attack the rim."

This game recap presented by
The Book Exchange
"Everybody else was asking who was going to step up. We didn't have to have anyone step up," Dixon said. "We just had to play the way we play, do the things we do an execute."

Despite all the things the visitors did well in the second half, it was still a contest that was in doubt until the final minute, thanks largely to an inspired effort from Deniz Kilicli.

The Mountaineer sophomore almost single-handedly solved weeks' worth of offensive woes for West Virginia, having his way with everyone who dared defend him all night by being lethally accurate with his trademark left-hand hook shot.

He scored a career-high 19 points to lead all scorers, hitting 9-of-13 shots from the field and repeatedly firing up a Coliseum crowd of 14,175 that was eager to see WVU try to bounce back from a Saturday afternoon loss at Villanova.

Kilicli hit a sweeping left-hand hook over McGhee to tie things up at 43-43 with 9:41 to play. McGhee answered on the other end with one of his several tip-ins, but the Mountaineers' Dalton Pepper promptly hit a 3-pointer to make it 46-45 with 8:41 left.

But that lead, West Virginia's last, was short-lived. Pitt's Travon Woodall, who started in Gibbs' absence, hit a baseline jumper on the very next trip down court, and the visitors' lead quickly expanded to six points.

Kilicli got his team back within a point at 59-58 on a three-point play, but the Panthers scored eight of the game's next 10 points to go up 67-60 in the final minute, ending any thoughts of a late comeback.

Huggins had said after the Mountaineers' loss at Villanova on Saturday that his team would have to do better than scoring in the 50s to beat a team as talented as Pitt.

The first half ran counter to that argument, as WVU had only 25 points by the intermission -- on pace for exactly 50 for the game -- yet only trailed for a few seconds and held a 25-23 lead at the break.

It could have been ugly if the Panthers had not struggled as much from the field as West Virginia has been more apt to do. The visitors missed all of their four 3-point field goal attempts in the half (almost all of which were relatively uncontested) and shot only 29 percent from the field (9-of-31).

But those misses and a heavy dose of Kilicli conspired to give the Mountaineers the edge. The center from Istanbul, Turkey had all 10 of his team's points from the 17:12 to 3:49 mark of the first half, keeping Pitt at bay.

"We finally threw him the ball," Huggins said of Kilicli. "We should have thrown him the ball at the Villanova game, and we didn't. That was an emphasis [in practice] yesterday -- to make sure we throw him the ball when he's working to get it."

Indeed, no other WVU player so much as registered a field goal for a span of 14:33 -- starting when Truck Bryant made a slashing layup while being fouled (and making the ensuing free throw) to make it 6-0 with 18:22 left in the opening half and ending when Bryant canned a jumper from the top of the key to make it 20-18 with 3:49 until the break.

But Bryant and fellow point guard Joe Mazzulla finally helped Kilicli out, making a couple of jump shots, and a 6-of-8 performance from WVU at the foul line in the first half allowed the Mountaineers to take that slim halftime lead.

Kilicli's 19 points led all scorers, but in a sign of how much work he still has to do in other areas of his game, he had only two rebounds and registered three turnovers in 26 minutes of play.

Jones added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Mountaineers, who fell to 15-8 overall and 6-5 in Big East play.

They will attempt to avoid falling to .500 in the league when they face DePaul on Saturday at the Coliseum. The Blue Demons nearly upset WVU in the teams' first meeting this season, a 67-65 decision in Rosemont, Ill., on Jan. 4.

Mountaineers Daily Top Stories