Junior point guard Levance Fields is likely to return to the starting lineup today when Pitt plays host to Louisville for an important Big East Conference game at the Petersen Events Center.
Fields, who has come off the bench the past two games after sitting out nearly seven weeks with a fractured bone in his left foot, went through a full practice yesterday without any problems after playing 25 minutes in the 82-70 loss at Notre Dame Thursday night.
- Matchup: Pitt (19-7, 7-6) vs. No. 18 Louisville (21-6, 11-3), noon today, Petersen Events Center.
- TV, Radio, Internet: WTAE, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
- Pitt: Coming off 82-70 loss at Notre Dame. ... Lost two consecutive games for the first time this season and for only the sixth time in the past five years. ... Junior F Sam Young needs seven points to reach 1,000 for his career. ... Senior G Ronald Ramon needs 18 points to reach 1,000.
- Louisville: Extended winning streak to six games with a 61-50 home win against Syracuse. ... One of the top defensive teams in Division I, opponents are averaging 37.2 percent shooting for the season. ... Led by junior F Terrence Williams (11.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Jerry Smith (11.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and senior C David Padgett (10.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
- Hidden Stat: Louisville has won 11 consecutive February games dating to last season.
"He looks good," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That was good to see. We went light [Friday]. It was good to see him go full [yesterday]. I thought he looked good the other day and played well. The process has gone as expected. It's going exactly as we thought. We'll figure out [today] who we're going to start. We'll see how he responds to practice."
Dixon has several options if Fields does return to his starting point guard spot. Senior Ronald Ramon could go back to being the starting shooting guard and Keith Benjamin could be the first guard off the bench. He could also move Benjamin to small forward and have freshman Gilbert Brown come off the bench. Or he could have Benjamin remain the starting shooting guard and have Ramon, who has struggled with his shot for much of the season, come into the game fresh as the top reserve.
Benjamin might have earned the right to stay in the starting lineup. He is the team's third-leading scorer in Big East play with 11.6 points per game and has been Pitt's most consistent 3-point shooter.
Ramon is averaging 8.1 points per game in Big East play, Brown 7.4.
"I think they're all interchangeable," Dixon said. "We've practiced them at different positions all year. The way things have worked out it's been beneficial to us. We did that in the preseason. That really helped us when the injuries happened. We were about as prepared as you can be for something like that. You don't make a plan for that, but we were as prepared as we could be as far as players being able to play different spots."
Pitt will be looking to get back on track against Louisville after consecutive losses to Marquette and Notre Dame. The Panthers blew an 11-point, second-half lead to the Fighting Irish and controlled the game for 30 minutes.
Many of the players were upset and frustrated after blowing the Notre Dame game, but Dixon said the Panthers have been attentive and upbeat in the practices leading up to today's game.
"All losses are tough," he said. "I don't sense that they're down. I would say our energy has been tremendous. We always seem to respond to a loss with a great sense of focus and determination."
The Panthers will be facing one of the hottest teams in Division I. Louisville has won six consecutive games and eight of its past nine. The only loss in the past month was a two-point defeat at Connecticut.
During the six-game winning streak the Cardinals are beating opponents by almost 15 points per game.
Louisville has been a different team since senior center David Padgett has returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a broken knee cap. He is shooting 67 percent from the field since coming back and is averaging 10.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
"We've seen him for three years now," Dixon said. "He's experienced. He's almost a point guard playing center. He's always directing people it seems, telling guys where to be. He's similar to our point guard. He's one of the more talkative players on the team like Levance is with our team. He does a lot of good things. His impact goes beyond the numbers. He separates himself in that regard from a lot of other big guys."