Monday , Jan , 29 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Pitt comes across state in search of 20th win

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Big East Conference foes meet in the City
of Brotherly Love this evening, as the seventh-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers
challenge the Villanova Wildcats.

Jamie Dixon’s Panthers come in having won nine of their last 10 games,
including a 72-46 pasting of St. John’s at home on Saturday. As a result,
Pitt is a stellar 19-3 on the year and holds down first place in the Big
East with a record of 7-1 — its best league start ever. A win tonight will
be the Panthers’ fourth straight on the road and earn them a school-record
sixth straight 20-win campaign.

As for Jay Wright’s Wildcats, they come licking their wounds a bit following
Saturday’s heartbreaking 66-63 loss at Notre Dame. The setback snapped a
modest three-game win streak for the club and was its fourth in seven
conference bouts thus far. The ‘Cats are 5-2 at home this season, but this
game represents just its second of the year at its home away from home, the
Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, as it posted a 76-69 upset of Texas on
January 20th.

Villanova is clinging to a 29-25 lead in the all-time series with
Pittsburgh, but the Panthers have won five of the last eight meetings dating
back to 2000.

Pittsburgh features one of the top big men in the country in 7-0 senior Aaron
Gray, a 57.3 percent shooter who is averaging 14.7 points and 10.2 rebounds
per game. Gray has led the Panthers in scoring, or tied for the team lead, 13
times this season, and his presence on the court commands automatic attention
from the opposition. Lending Gray a hand at the offensive end are double-digit
scorers Mike Cook (11.2 ppg) and Antonio Graves (10.2 ppg), while a guy like
Levance Fields serves as the club’s primary playmaker with his 4.9 apg. As a
team, the Panthers are putting up 74.1 ppg behind 49.6 percent shooting from
the floor and better than 40 percent from three-point land. Defensively, Pitt
is holding its opponents to just 61.3 ppg on 39.9 percent shooting overall,
which includes a 30.2 percent showing from beyond the arc. Gray logged yet
another double-double in the Panthers’ recent win over St. John’s, finishing
with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Sam Young came off the bench to net 11
points. Pitt held the Red Storm to just a 32.1 percent shooting effort, which
included a dismal 4-of-24 effort from downtown.

Line their counterpart tonight, the Wildcats rely on the services of three
double-digit scorers led by Curtis Sumpter and his 17.9 ppg. The oft-injured
6-7 senior is shooting a solid 47.1 percent from the field this year and has
knocked down 39.5 percent of his three-point tries. Sumpter, who when healthy
is one of the more well-rounded players in the Big East, is also grabbing 6.8
rpg while blocking 14 shots and coming up with 23 steals. Not to be outdone,
the backcourt duo of Mike Nardi (14.1 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Scottie Reynolds (12.6
ppg, 4.3 apg) have done their part to help ‘Nova to its favorable record to
this point in the season. Collectively, the ‘Cats are hitting roughly 45
percent of their total shots and they are one of the Big East’s top free throw
shooting teams at 77.1 percent. Defensively, coach Wright’s club is allowing
just 66.2 ppg and has proven an opportunistic bunch by forcing 18 turnovers
per contest. Reynolds has taken his game to another level of late, leading the
team in scoring in six of the last seven tilts, including the last four in
which he is averaging a robust 23 ppg. Despite 19 points from Reynolds and 11
each from Nardi, Sumpter and Dante Cunningham, Villanova came up short in its
attempt to knock off Notre Dame on the road over the weekend. The ‘Cats got
off to a cold start, shooting a mere 27.3 percent from the floor in the first
half, and a 29-17 deficit in points from the foul line played a significant
role in the setback.