MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- No Ashton Gibbs, no problem.
The NCAA tournament is about a month away and that will define just how good fourth-ranked Pitt really is. If nothing else, the Panthers have proven to be as resilient as any team in the country.
The Panthers played at No. 25 West Virginia without Gibbs, their leading scorer and starting point guard and didn't seem to miss a beat Monday night. They used an efficient offense, particularly in the second half, to win, 71-66, before a crowd of 14,175 at WVU Coliseum.
It was Pitt's sixth consecutive road win and the Panthers' third win in a row since their Jan. 24 home loss to Notre Dame.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said losing Gibbs obviously hurts, but he sent a very clear message to his team before the game that if everybody does their job, the Panthers (22-2, 10-1) would win.
"We just had to play the way we play, do the things we do and execute," Dixon said. "No one really had to do anything different, or shoot more 3s," or become a different player overnight.
"They just had to do what we do and play like we play when [Gibbs] is not in the game or in the lineup at practice."
Dixon was especially pleased with the way Travon Woodall, who started in place of Gibbs, played. Woodall scored 12 points, had three assists and only one turnover.
"[Woodall] has played so many minutes for us, it is not like this is a new thing for him," Dixon said.
"I don't think we were worried about him, we were a little concerned if we had to go [to the bench] beyond him. But I felt fine with him. We've been working with him on his defense, and he has really improved in that area and he really performed well."
At first it looked as if the Panthers might miss Gibbs as they were sluggish on offense early in the game and scored only 23 points on 9-of-31 shooting (29 percent).
But Pitt's defense was good -- and West Virginia's offense wasn't particularly efficient -- and as a result the Panthers only trailed, 25-23, at the break.
Dixon's message at halftime was simple -- just keep doing the things you did in the first half and the shots will eventually begin to fall.
"We were running good stuff in the first half," Dixon said, "and we took good shots and just missed them, and those are shots we are usually going to make."
The Panthers came out and played one of their most efficient 20 minutes of offensive basketball of the season as they scored 48 points on 17-of-28 shooting (60.7 percent).
Pitt had 10 offensive rebounds in the second half and converted them into 12 second-chance points.
The Panthers guards and wings continually drove to the basket for layups and dunks as the West Virginia defense was powerless to stop them at times.
For the game, the Panthers outrebounded the Mountaineers, 40-28, (including an 18-8 edge on the offensive boards) and scored 42 points in the lane. Neither team shot the 3-pointer particularly well, but the Mountaineers attempted 17 (and hit only four); Pitt shot six (and made one).
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose offense was carried by center Deniz Kilicli's game-high 19 points, said it was difficult to watch the Panthers continue to drive to the basket, but the Mountaineers simply couldn't match up.
"They outmanned us, that is what happened," Huggins said. "They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it."
Huggins was asked if there was a difference in the way the Panthers played without Gibbs and he said, "They drive it more, they just attack the rim."
Despite Pitt's advantages in offensive personnel and options, the Panthers found themselves in a grinder of a game and mostly because, like the Panthers, the Mountaineers are resourceful and play great defense.
Dalton Pepper hit a 3-pointer with 8:41 to play to give the Mountaineers a 46-45 lead, and it looked as if the game would go right down to the wire.
But Woodall hit a jumper on the Panthers' next possession and Brad Wanamaker added a layup with 7:41 to play, giving Pitt a three-point lead.
West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) did get back to within one point -- 59-58 -- with 4:03 to play on a hook shot by Kilicli but the Panthers again responded with consecutive baskets -- layups by Gilbert Brown and Wanamaker -- and held on for the win.
Pitt had four players in double figures led by Nasir Robinson, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and McGhee, who scored 13. Woodall added 12 points and Wanamaker had 11.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720. First Published February 8, 2011 5:00 AM