Pitt beats rival West Virginia, 71-58

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Falling behind against West Virginia usually is not a good thing. The Mountaineers are 81-11 under coach Bob Huggins when they have a halfitme lead.

But, when Pitt trails the Mountaineers, the Panthers have them right where they want them. For the second time this month and third consecutive meeting, the Panthers battled back from a halftime deficit to beat West Virginia.

The 71-58 victory Thursday night came before 12,876, the fifth-largest crowd in the history of the Petersen Events Center. It was sparked by a sizzling second-half performance from the Panthers, who shot 65 percent (15 for 23) in the final 20 minutes.

"I felt like we had a valiant effort in the first half, but we just weren't hitting our shots," senior forward Gilbert Brown said. "In the second half, we made adjustments, crashed the boards and we made out shots."

Nasir Robinson led the Panthers with 15 points. Brown, Lamar Patterson and Brad Wanamaker each had 11. The 11 points for Patterson were a career high. The Panthers shot 57.4 percent (27 for 47) for the game.

Casey Mitchell scored 22 points for West Virginia, but the Mountaineers shot 33.3 percent. The Panthers won the rebounding battle for the second time this season, besting the Mountaineers, 33-30.

"We got beat in transition in the second half," Huggins said. "Our halfcourt defense wasn't as good. But they're good. There's a reason they're 25-3. They're good. It's just frustrating the breakdowns we had that we shouldn't have this time of the season."

Fourth-ranked Pitt (25-3, 13-2) kept its two-game lead atop the Big East Conference standings with three games remaining. The Panthers can clinch their first Big East regular-season title in seven years with two more victories or one more win and a Notre Dame loss.

Pitt continued its home dominance over its archrival. The Panthers won for the 10th time in the past 11 meetings at home against the Mountaineers and improved to 7-1 against the Mountaineers at the Petersen Events Center. They have won 16 of the past 23 games in the series.

West Virginia led, 31-30, at halftime, but Pitt only needed little more than eight minutes to get the lead to double digits in the second half. The Panthers made 5 of their first 6 shots after halftime while the Mountaineers were cold.

Pitt scored the first seven points after halftime to take control. Patterson scored five of them, and Wanamaker got the other bucket, giving the Panthers a 37-31 lead and forcing Huggins to call a timeout with 17 minutes left.

The lead grew to double digits for the first time for either team a few minutes later after baskets by Gary McGhee and Wanamaker, whose offensive rebound and putback made it 47-36. The Mountaineers never again threatened.

"It wasn't a panic at halftime," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had foul trouble in the first half, we got off to a slow start. They knew they weren't playing well. I thought we had a little more patience offensively in the second half."

Pitt received some bad news before the game. Forward Talib Zanna will miss 3-6 weeks with a right thumb injury. Zanna, a 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman, fractured his thumb Thursday after a pregame meal when some horseplay with some teammates went awry.

"They were messing around after the pregame meal, getting into a car," Dixon said.

Zanna, a reserve, is averaging 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. A starter for the first 13 games of the season, Zanna's role diminished in recent weeks. He had scored in double figures once in the past nine games and had been held scoreless in three of the past four.

It was another tough loss for West Virginia, which is in the midst of a murderous part of its schedule. Pitt was the Mountaineers' fifth ranked opponent in the past six games. The Mountaineers have three games remaining, with two more against ranked teams.

Since The Associated Press poll began in 1948, the Mountaineers never have had to endure a stretch with seven ranked opponents in a nine-game stretch.

Not that West Virginia is getting any sympathy from Pitt. Six of Pitt's first 15 Big East opponents were ranked, with two more coming in the final three games. The Panthers have to play at No. 16 Louisville Sunday and play host to No. 15 Villanova in the regular-season finale, with a game at unranked South Florida in between.

NOTES -- The Panthers improved to 38-11 after a loss under Dixon. ... The win was the 213th victory of Dixon's career, which ties him with Roy Williams and Everett Case for the most victories in the first eight seasons of a coaching career. Dixon can break the record Sunday at Louisville.

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com .


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