Woodall shines again in victory
Pitt's Tray Woodall celebrates his team's win against Villanova Sunday afternoon at Petersen Events Center.
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Tray Woodall keeps getting better, and Pitt keeps on winning.
There are more intricate details involved in Pitt's four-game winning streak for sure, but Woodall's stellar play is just about all one needs to know as the Panthers continue their late push for an NCAA tournament berth.
Woodall scored a career-high 29 points to lead Pitt past Villanova, 79-70, Sunday in a Big East Conference game at Petersen Events Center. He was 7 for 12 from the field, 3 for 6 from 3-point range and 12 for 12 from the free-throw line.
And even when Woodall opened the door for a Villanova comeback with some late turnovers, he atoned by making clutch play after clutch play in the final minute to seal the victory.
"I just want to attack," said Woodall, who is still smarting from an abdominal injury that kept him out of 11 of 12 games in December and most of January. "I don't know if anyone thinks I'm hurting or whatever the case may be. I just want to leave the floor knowing that I made no excuses. I'm not worrying about my injury. I'm just going out there and playing basketball. At the end of the day, you don't want to leave the court with regrets. You want to leave the court knowing that you gave everything on the floor... that you fought for your teammates. That's what I'm trying to do. And it's helping me look real good."
And it's helping the Panthers (15-9, 4-7) climb their way back into contention for an NCAA tournament berth. Two weeks ago, they were alone in last place in the Big East standings. After Sunday, they are in a four-way tie for 10th place.
One or two more wins, and the Panthers should be on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Villanova (10-13, 3-8) made the game interesting in the final minute after getting behind by 18 in the early stages of the second half. Maalik Wayns, who scored a team-high 18 points for the Wildcats, cut the lead to three with 57 seconds remaining.
After Lamar Patterson was called for a charge with 43 seconds left, Wayns had an open look at another 3-pointer that would have tied the score, but it bounced off the rim.
Villanova cut it to three again after JayVaughn Pinkston made two free throws with 22 seconds remaining, but Nasir Robinson threw a home-run pass on the inbounds play to Woodall, who converted a layup at the other end.
It was a gutsy play by Robinson and Woodall after the Panthers watched a 10-point lead quickly unravel after three turnovers in the final 3:23. Woodall accounted for two of those turnovers, and he recklessly took a hurried shot on another possession.
"That was just eye contact between me and [Robinson]," Woodall explained of the game-sealing play. "That's what it's all about. He threw a terrific pass, and I made a wide-receiver catch."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said it's a play Robinson and Woodall executed on their own. It's the perfect example of the type of play the Panthers can run with Woodall in the lineup.
Woodall has been making clutch plays all over the place in Pitt's four-game winning streak. In the past four games, he is averaging 18.5 points and has made 10 of his 18 attempts from 3-point range.
"If they want to keep underestimating me, I'm going to keep knocking down shots," Woodall said. "With me knocking down open shots, it makes me tougher to guard. I just want to make sure I'm in attack mode."
Woodall's backcourt mate, Ashton Gibbs, has been in attack mode as well since his point guard returned to the lineup. Gibbs contributed 24 points and shot 4 for 8 from 3-point range.
It was Gibbs and Woodall who helped the Panthers take command after a slow start. Gibbs had three 3-point plays and Woodall had two in a 22-2 run midway through the first half. A 19-14 deficit quickly turned into a 38-23 lead.
"The difference in the game was their two guards," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Gibbs and Woodall controlled the entire game. We tried to blitz them sometimes, we tried to deny them. They just dominated the game. It was tough, smart guard play. We had decent balance, but when you get a lead like that, you can't speed them up. They go make a play. They made every free throw. We tried to speed them up, get it out of their hands. They just made a shot or made their free throws."
Gibbs was 7 for 7 from the free-throw line, combining with Woodall to go 19 for 19. As a team, the Panthers were 27 for 31 from the line, including 10 for 10 in the final 1:04.
"It was big because we lost a couple of games early in the season due to free throws," Gibbs said. "It's a matter of guys getting in the gym more. We're spending time in the gym now and everything is carrying over into the game."
Pitt will attempt to extend its winning streak to five Wednesday night against South Florida at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
NOTES -- Pitt is shooting 82 percent from the free-throw line in its four-game winning streak. The Panthers had shot 64 percent from the line in its eight-game losing streak. ... Pitt won the rebounding battle, 37-36, but allowed 16 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats. ... Junior center Dante Taylor had nine points and five rebounds off the bench. He accounted for all nine points Pitt's reserves contributed for the game. ... All five Villanova starters scored in double figures, but the Wildcats shot 36 percent.
First Published February 6, 2012 12:00 am