Saturday, March 5, 2011
Posted: 6:27 p.m. Updated: 10:22 p.m.
By Reuben Frank
BOX SCORE Big East tournament bracket
PITTSBURGH -- Villanova proved it can play with anybody in the country. Right now, they just cant beat them.
The undermanned Wildcats, with senior guard Corey Stokes out with a hamstring injury and senior guard Corey Fisher hobbled by knee tendinitis, battled valiantly against No. 4 Pitt, leading much of the game before losing 60-50 at Petersen Events Center, where Pitt has lost just four times since the start of the 2007-08 season and is 149-12 all-time.
Villanova goes into the Big East tournament on a four-game losing streak, with the four losses coming against teams ranked No. 4, No. 8, No. 12 and No. 15 nationally.
Stay positive, Fisher said. Cant get down on yourself. Things will turn. Just like our Final 4 team (in 2009). We lost five games in a row. Not comparing us to that team, but we had doubters, too. If we go out and make a run, all the doubters will become fans. Just got to continue to play.
Staying positive was a big theme for the Wildcats Saturday. Even though they lost for the ninth time in their last 14 games, even though their two best players are banged up, even though they wont get a first-round bye in the Big East tournament, just going toe-to-toe with this mighty Pittsburgh team for 30 minutes on its home court was big.
We were right there, Fisher said. Weve still got games ahead of us. We come out and make a run at the Big East tournament this week, everythings going to change. Everybodys going to say, Oh, youre back. We know how it goes. We know how hard we work. Its hard, these last four games right here, but thats in the past.
After a 16-1 start and a No. 7 national ranking, Villanova finished the regular season 21-10 and 9-9 in the Big East. They were 2-6 in their last eight conference games.
Pitt (27-4, 15-3) clinched its fourth Big East regular-season title and first since 2004 and earned the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.
Thanks to Seton Halls win over Marquette later Saturday, Villanova will be the No. 10 seed in New York and will play No. 15 South Florida at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Villanova beat South Florida by 12 on Jan. 6.
The winner will face No. 7 seed Cincinnati at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Villanova beat Cincinnati by 11 on Jan. 9.
In the 31 seasons since the start of the Big East tournament in 1981, this is only the fourth time Villanova has been seeded outside the top eight. They were No. 10 in 1993, No. 10 in 2004 and No. 11 in 2007.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said that as rough as the last month and a half has been -- the Wildcats have won only four games since Jan. 23 -- his team has stayed confident and is eager to get to New York for the conference tournament.
Thats the good thing, thats what were good at, he said. Were not really good at making free throws right now or rebounding, but we are good at that. These guys have kept a good attitude. Theres been no problems. Every day they come to practice, they prepare well, they know the scouting report, they do all that stuff.
Im not worried about their psyche anymore. Their psyches are good. We just have to make shots. We have to rebound a little bit better. We have to defend a little bit better. We have to execute a little bit better offensively.
Villanova kept themselves in the game Saturday by controlling tempo, working the shot clock down to single digits, slowing down the explosive Panthers and keeping them from scoring easy baskets in transition.
The Wildcats led 30-29 with 12 minutes to go before Pitt finally took command with a 14-2 run over the next five minutes. Pitt scored more points in the final 12 minutes (31) than in the first 28 minutes (29).
They tried to basically break us down and make us force shots on offense, Pitt forward Gilbert Brown said. We had to value every possession with the minimal possessions we had. In the second half, I think we started to do a better job dealing with that.
Sophomore guard Maalik Wayns single-handedly kept 'Nova in the game late, scoring 15 of Villanovas last18 points.
Wayns made five three-pointers in the final 5 12 minutes and finished with a career-high 27 points on 6-for-12 from three-point range. In his previous seven games, he made just three of 20 from long range.
Nobody else scored more than seven.
I had to be more aggressive on offense, Wayns said. Coach told me Stokes wasnt playing, I had to step it up on offense. I havent been making shots, but I put the time in every day, put in the extra time. Eventually, theyre going to start falling.
Thanks to Wayns, this was still a seven-point game in the final minute before the Panthers made a ton of foul shots.
Hes got guts, Wright said. We were looking bad there offensively for a stretch thats when they took over, and he didnt give up, and he wasnt afraid to look bad, and he kept battling, and I love him. I love the kid.
But in the end, once again, Nova just didnt have enough firepower to stay with a Big East powerhouse.
Theyre just better right now, Wright said.
Fisher, who is battling tendinitis, continued to struggle with his shot. He made just three of 14 baskets and was 1-for-8 from three-point range, leaving him 15-for-57 (26 percent) and 4-for-32 (13 percent) in Novas last four games.
Fighting through it, he said. Ill be all right.
Junior guard Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 18 points. Nova actually made more baskets than Pitt (19 to 17), but the Panthers were 23-for-26 from the foul line (89 percent) to 'Novas 5-for-10.
Everybodys got their heads up, Wayns said. We just played a great team whos capable of winning a national championship at their house, and we played them head-to-head.
Just shows you what type of team we can be. Were a great team, were just not making shots. Were definitely confident. Weve got great players who can turn it on at any time.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related: Big East Wrap: Cincy crushes No. 17 Georgetown