Panthers Defeat Wildcats 58-43

The Pitt Panthers defeated the Villanova Wildcats on the road tonight 58 – 43 improving their overall record to 14-4 and its Big East record to 2 – 3.  Junior Trey Ziegler led the Panthers with 13 pts., 6 rebounds and one assist.  The Central Michigan transfer logged 25 minutes and went 6 of 10 from the field scoring 9 of the 13 after halftime.  The Panthers scored the final 15 points of the ballgame which had been tied with just over 5 minutes left on the clock. Freshman Duran Johnson saw increased playing time and responded by going 3 for 6 from behind the three point line, tallying 13 points for the game.

The Panthers take an early lead in the cross state rivals last series as members of the Big East.  The overall series is now tied with both teams at 32 victories giving their March 3rd rematch even more importance. It is likely both teams will be on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament in what will be the second to last game of the regular season.

Pitt plays UConn on Saturday at noon.  Connecticut is currently 12-4 led by the backcourt of Junior Shabazz Napier and Sophomore Ryan Boatright.

Since joining the Big East both teams have been staples of the impressive basketball empire with the Panthers making the NCAA tournament 17 times while Villanova has made 19.  The two teams most famous meeting may have taken in place in the 2008 Elite Eight when Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds sprinted up the court and sunk the bucket that ended what was questionable the Panthers strongest season during the decade of excellence.

That game was ranked number 8 of the decade by  The full game can be watched via this link.  Remembering the game CBS Sports writer Gary Parrish reflected,

The best season in Big East history led to two of the conference’s best meeting in the Elite Eight in Boston. By tip-off, Connecticut had already punched its ticket to the Final Four. So either Pittsburgh or Villanova would be the second league member to reserve a place in Detroit, and, in 24 hours, Louisville would have an opportunity to get there, too.

Reynolds attacks the rim and gets the winner to fall. (US Presswire)  
Reynolds attacks the rim and gets the winner to fall. (US Presswire)  

Pitt was the favorite, a No. 1 seed. But the Wildcats were one of four schools to beat Jamie Dixon’s team in the regular season, and that they jumped to a double-digit lead in the first half suggested they could do it again. Naturally, that lead disappeared by halftime. Villanova trailed Pitt 34-32 after 20 minutes. Nobody led by more than five points in the second half. But Pitt led 67-63 with less than three minutes remaining.

“It felt like we had it done,” Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair would later say. “And then it was anybody’s ballgame.”

Fast forward to the final minute, Villanova was up 76-74 and inbounding under its own basket. Rather than get the ball in safely and force Pitt to foul, Reggie Redding threw the ball away, and Levance Fields ended up with it. He was fouled just after crossing halfcourt with 5.5 seconds remaining. The Pitt point guard sank both free throws to create a 76-76 tie, and what came next was Scottie Reynolds’ Tyus Edney moment, a dash to the other end for the win.

The 2008 – 2009Pittsburgh Panthers

The 2009 roster included future NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young as well as one of the programs best point guards, Levance Fields. They ended their season with a 31 – 5 record, going 15 – 3 in a highly regarded Big East.  Six Big East teams were ranked among the Top 25 at the seasons end with 5 teams (#1 Louisville, #4 Pitt, and #5 UConn, #11 Villanova, and #13 Syracuse) on the top 15.  Jamie Dixon had been named National Coach of the Year and DeJuan Blair shared the Big East Player of the Year award with UConn’s  Hasheem Thabeet.

Sidenote: the freshman Thabeet was selected 2nd overall in the NBA Draft that year by the Memphis Grizzlies.  Despite his 7 foot 3, 265 pound frame Thabeet struggled and was demoted to the Dakota Wizards of the NBA D-League and then eventually traded to the Houston Rockets in 2011. Thabeet quickly fell out of favor in Houston and was sent back to the D-League, this time seeing action with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He later made a stop with the Pistons before becoming a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder where he has seen minimal success.  Pitt’s DeJuan Blair was red flagged after his combine physical showed he had cartlidge damage in his knees.  His stock dropped and he fell to the San Antonio Spurs who used the 37th overall pick to select him. Blair’s teammate Sam Young was selcted with the 36th pick by the Memphis Grizzlies.  The undersized Schenley grad (6 foot 7 and 270 pounds) quickly became a fan favorite off of the Spurs bench.  He has remained a vital part of their team since being drafted.

The Panthers were ranked #4 in the nation before losing early in the Big east Tournament to West Virginia 74-60.  Rejuvinated after a short break the Panthers were the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournaments East bracket and defeated #16 East Tennessee State 72 -62.



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