GAME NOTES: The Pittsburgh Panthers have made the trek to Villanova for the final time in Big East Conference regular-season history to take on the Wildcats on Wednesday night.
The Panthers entered Big East play on an eight-game winning streak and then subsequently dropped three of their first four conference matchups. This game marks the final Big East Conference matchup played at Villanova between the two teams before Pitt departs for the ACC next year. The two schools meet for the final regular season game on March 9 in Pittsburgh.
Villanova also began Big East play on a hot streak, winning its last seven non-conference games. The Wildcats notched victories in each of their first two league contests before falling to nationally-ranked Syracuse this past Saturday, 72-61.
Pitt comes into Wednesday's game after dropping a 74-67 overtime decision at home to Marquette last Saturday. The Panthers trailed for the majority of regulation, but battled back and sent the game into overtime when Lamar Patterson converted a 3-pointer at the top of the key as the buzzer sounded. In the extra session, the Golden Eagles grabbed an early lead with an 8-2 spurt and outscored Pitt 17-10 to register the win. Patterson led the Panthers with a career-high 22 points, doing so by draining 6-of-7 3-point attempts.
Villanova's seven-game winning streak that dated to early December was snapped at No. 7 Syracuse last Saturday. The Orange claimed a 32-20 advantage in points in the paint en route to the 11-point victory. The Wildcats took a 29-27 lead at halftime, but an early run in the second half put the home team up for good. C.J.Fair paced the winners in scoring with 22 points, while sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston led the Wildcats with a dozen. Mouphtaou Yarou chipped in 11 points for the Wildcats. The game was played in front of the largest crowd to attend a college basketball game thus far in 2012-13.
Through the first 17 games, Pitt has outscored its opponents by an average of 19 points, shooting 49.9 percent from the floor and winning the rebounding battle by 7.5 boards per game. The Panthers have forced 14.2 turnovers per game and totaled 117 steals (6.9 per game). Pitt has also dominated the paint, having outscored the enemy there by a 612-356 margin. The team ranks among the nation's top-20 teams in eight statistical categories: fifth in scoring defense and scoring margin, eighth in field goal percentage, third in assists per game, first in assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth in fewest turnovers per tilt and 11th in turnover margin. The Panthers are led by Talib Zanna, who is averaging 12.6 ppg. Tray Woodall is also averaging in double figures, dropping in 10.8 ppg, while center Steven Adams paces the squad on the glass with 6.1 rpg.
Pitt and Villanova are meeting for the 64th time, with the latter clinging to a slim 32-31 series advantage. The Panthers have won each of the last four matchups, but they are just 5-9 all-time in games played at The Pavilion, with the last matchup there resulting in a 57-54 Pittsburgh victory on Feb. 12, 2011. Villanova is hoping to secure its first victory over Pitt since March 28, 2009, when the Wildcats upended the Panthers (78-76) en route to the Final Four.
Young guard Ryan Archidiacono had been averaging 12.1 ppg, but after scoring a career-high 32 points in his Big East debut against St. John's, the freshman has been held in check by USF and Syracuse, scoring just five and seven points, respectively. Yarou produced his first two double-doubles of 2012-13 last week against USF and Syracuse. The senior from Benin contributed 11 points and 14 boards against the Orange, and averaged 13.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in those two Big East contests. He leads the team in rebounding at 5.7 per outing. The bench has been a significant factor in Villanova's improvement over the last six weeks. Over its last 10 games, VU's reserves have outscored its opponents' by a 267-146 margin. The bench nets 26.7 ppg from during that stretch, with the bulk coming from sixth man and leading scorer Pinkston (13.3 ppg). Rebounding has been an area of strength for VU thus far, as the team outworks Big East competition by a league-best 9.7 rpg. The Wildcats' 3-point percentage defense is still a work in progress, with league foes shooting .370 from distance.
The Wildcats are hoping to build on their solid first half and put together a complete effort against the Panthers. Pitt would love to say goodbye to visiting their cross-state rivals with a win. Both teams play well underneath the basket, so expect the guards to make the difference. Archidiacono is due to break out of his recent slump, so expect the home team to pull out a close one.
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