Fourth-ranked Pitt played Saturday against Cincinnati without Dante Taylor (sore knees) and Lamar Patterson (one-game suspension) and had no problem beating the Bearcats, 71-59.
The Panthers (22-2, 10-1 Big East) played at No. 25 West Virginia without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs (MCL sprain) and had a 48-point second-half outburst Monday that led to a 71-66 win.
What is apparent after both wins is Pitt coach Jamie Dixon's team does not seem to miss a beat even when it is missing players.
Before the West Virginia game, Dixon told his players that their roles wouldn't change, even though Gibbs, the starting point guard who averages 16.3 points per game and is a team leader, wouldn't be available.
"I just told them, 'Be who you are, do what you do,' " Dixon said. "They all played a lot of minutes, but that's what we anticipated. I told them, nothing is changing too much, the guys who normally play will just have to play a few more minutes, that's all. And, frankly, they all want to play more minutes every game, so that wasn't a problem."
There were some slight changes in the game plan because Gibbs is the team's best outside shooter. Instead, the Panthers attacked the rim more.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said as much when asked what the Panthers did differently. He said the Panthers drove to the basket a lot more and created favorable matchups for their most athletic players.
And then he paid the Panthers the ultimate compliment.
"They have good players and a good coach and they share the ball," Huggins said. "It is admirable in today's times. You got a lot of these guys that think they are going to play in the [NBA], but they got guys who just play, man, they just play to win. They don't force shots, they don't do things they can't do, they just do what they can do.
"It is kind of refreshing, actually. Well, tonight it wasn't, but, tonight it was ... I can't say what it was, but you know what I mean."
Travon Woodall replaced Gibbs in the starting lineup, and Dixon also used Brad Wanamaker some at point guard and gave more minutes to younger players such as Patterson and J.J. Moore.
Woodall responded with 12 points and three assists and had only one turnover in 36 minutes.
Dixon said the key to the game was the understanding that one player didn't have to make up for Gibbs' scoring. Instead, everyone just needed to chip in and do his part.
"Brad has played point, he has done it in the past," Dixon said. "We just wanted to keep it simple and we ran plays suitable to the players' strengths and we made adjustments. And we've seen guys like Lamar and J.J. make progress and do things in the practice all year and they have improved greatly.
"I know they didn't have a lot of minutes to show for it, but that's because they are behind some pretty good players. But they are getting a lot of experience at practice, and they are going to be very good players for us next year when it is their turn.
"I would guess that people on the outside are more concerned than I am when we have lost guys because I have seen their development at practice and we know how good they are."
Pitt will be put to the test again Saturday when they play at No. 10 Villanova (19-4, 7-3) in a key game between two of the league's top teams.
The Wildcats will travel tonight to Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) and could put themselves right back in the race for the regular-season title with consecutive wins.
Pitt and Villanova will meet at the Petersen Events Center on the last day of the regular season.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720. First Published February 9, 2011 5:30 AM