Short Stay

A handful of missed layups and an inability to keep its opponent off the offensive boards led to West Virginia's 68-57 loss to Pitt in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament.

As it did in the regular season finale against Cincinnati, WVU missed three layups in the early going, and then compounded the error with two more in the game's final moments. The ten points the Mountaineers left on the court figured mightily in the game's outcome, as it allowed the Panthers to extend their lead down the stretch. With West Virginia forced to foul in the closing moments, the Panthers made nine of their ten free throws in the closing 1:21 to secure the victory.

The game was a bitter contrast to last year's tournament run, in which WVU won three consecutive games to reach the championship contest. This year's Mountaineer tournament experience was a brief one, marked by, if not a lack of effort, at least much of the intensity that spurred the success of the 2004-05 team.

West Virginia got off to a good start in the opening half, and twice had leads of 12 points before settling for a seven-point advantage at the break. Kevin Pittsnogle led all scorers with ten points in the opening 20 minutes, and Mike Gansey and Frank Young battled the Panthers to nearly a draw on the boards, holding Pitt to just an 18-17 advantage in that category. And while WVU did miss those three layups that could have put them in even more firm command, it seemed as if the Mountaineers were set for a Friday night semi-final date.

All that changed in the second half, however. The Panthers began to assert themselves on the offensive glass, getting second and third chances to offset their misses from the field. At the same time, WVU went cold, making just 9-28 from the field, including 5-17 from three-point range. The key streak was a five-minute scoreless stretch early in the half, when Pitt turned a 38-32 deficit into a 40-38 advantage. Although Pittsnogle then hit a three-pointer to briefly put the Mountaineers back in front, Pitt had too much momentum at that point for the wounded Mountaineers to overcome.

West Virginia was also hurt, quite badly, by the loss of Mike Gansey to stomach cramps in the second half. After scoring six points to go with his five boards in the opening twenty minutes, Gansey was able to add just four points in the second half, and sat out much of the period after diving for a loose ball.

"After it happened, I tried to go back in, but I just couldn't play," a clearly distraught Gansey said afterward. "I wanted to play, but I would have been just hurting the team. Pitt is too good to play five on four."

Although the Panthers also missed a player, Levon Kendall, who was out with back spasms, they had little trouble coming up with an answer. Substitute Sam Young, who is more talented and athletic than Kendall, stepped into his place in the starting lineup and produced a double-double. His 14 points and 11 rebounds were much more than Kendall likely would have produced, and made the Panthers stronger in the lane, where WVU was the weakest with Gansey out. Coupled with Aaron Gray's 19 points and 15 rebounds, the Panthers simply overwhelmed the Mountaineers inside, and ended up with a 44-25 advantage on the boards. Included in the Panther total were 18 offensive rebounds, which they turned into 20 second-chance points.

For West Virginia, Pittsnogle finished with 22 points and Gansey ten. J.D. Collins and Joe Herber each added eight points. West Virginia ended up shooting just 34% from the field.

The Mountaineers now await Selection Sunday, when they will learn their NCAA destination. With an unimpressive final ten game record, the Mountaineers could fall to as low as a six or seven seed when the pairings are announced.

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