If there is a better point guard in the country than Levance Fields right now, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wants to know his name. Dixon knows North Carolina has Ty Lawson and Davidson has Stephon Curry and Syracuse has Jonny Flynn, but he wouldn't trade his senior for any of them.
After watching Fields yesterday against Cincinnati, it's hard to argue his point. Fields continued to raise his level of play as the postseason approaches with another stellar performance in an 85-69 victory against the Bearcats at the Petersen Events Center.
Fields directed another virtuoso offensive performance. The NCAA Division I leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, Fields had 13 assists with no turnovers and helped the Panthers tie a school record for shooting percentage in a game.
No. 4 Pitt (23-2, 10-2) shot 67.4 percent from the field (31 for 46), tying the mark that was set against Kent State in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
In the past five games, Fields has 56 assists and only six turnovers.
"The numbers are mind-boggling," Dixon said. "It was an unbelievable performance. He's doing it game after game down the stretch. I don't know who is playing better than him as a point guard. You can't play any better than his numbers."
Pitt had five players score in double figures led by senior power forward Sam Young, who poured in a game-high 18 points. Sophomore center DeJuan Blair had 17 points, Jermaine Dixon 14, Gilbert Brown 12 and Fields 11.
It was the fourth time in the past five games that the Panthers have scored 85 points or more.
"We executed our plays," Fields said. "Guys did a great job of spotting up and knocking some shots down. DeJuan and Sam did a great job inside as well as Tyrell [Biggs]."
Young and Blair were each 7 for 9 from the field. All five starters shot better than 50 percent from the field. Every player who took a shot except Brad Wanamaker shot better than 50 percent, and it was a Wanamaker miss in the final minute that prevented the school record.
"This is the best Pitt team that I've seen," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "They have three players who are the best in the league at their position with Fields, Blair and Young."
The victory sets up a nationally televised contest against No. 1 Connecticut tomorrow night. The Huskies have won 13 consecutive games after defeating Seton Hall yesterday and have been atop the polls for the past three weeks.
Pitt led from start to finish against the Bearcats (17-9, 7-6). The Panthers shot a sizzling 72 percent in the first half and, at one point, scored on 9 of 10 possessions.
The Panthers got a big lift from Brown in the first half. He scored seven points in the first 20 minutes and was more aggressive than he had been all season. Brown hadn't scored in double figures since the Big East opener at Rutgers Dec. 31.
"Gil Brown stepped up, finally," Blair joked. "He did an excellent job coming off the bench. He gave us a spark in the first half."
With Brown's help, Pitt took a 43-32 lead into halftime. And with his help, the Panthers put the game away midway through the second half.
After the intermission, Cincinnati trimmed the deficit to five with 13:09 remaining, but the Panthers countered with a decisive, 13-3 run that put the game back under their control. Brown scored five points during that stretch, including an alley-oop dunk with an assist from Fields. When Biggs nailed a 3-pointer from the wing with 8:57 remaining the lead was back to 15.
It took less than five minutes to accomplish.
"That's why they can win the national championship," Cronin said.
And when Jermaine Dixon made his second 3-pointer of the game with 1:59 remaining to boost the lead to 17, the sellout crowd began the chant: "We want UConn."
The only drawback in the game was Pitt's defense. Cincinnati shot 52 percent from the field and was the fifth opponent in the past six games to shoot 44 percent or better.
Not that it mattered. The way Pitt's offense was playing, Cincinnati could have matched Pitt's shooting percentage, and the Bearcats likely would not have won.
NOTES -- Pitt had 21 assists and six turnovers. ... The Panthers were 5 for 12 from 3-point range and 18 for 29 from the free-throw line.... Mike Williams led Cincinnati with 17 points. He was 7 for 9 from the field. Larry Davis was 6 for 7 from the field and scored 13.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published February 15, 2009 5:00 AM