Following an awful offensive display in its first loss of the season last weekend, Pittsburgh had one of its better offensive efforts its last time out.
It will likely be tough to duplicate that performance Sunday as the fourth-ranked Panthers visit West Virgina in a matchup featuring the top two defenses in the Big East.
After earning the school’s first No. 1 ranking on Jan. 5, Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-1) was knocked out of the top spot following last Saturday’s 69-63 loss at then-No. 20 Louisville.
The Panthers didn’t stay down for long, though, as they bounced back with an impressive 78-60 win over No. 8 Syracuse just two days later.
They outrebounded the Orange 40-28 and held them nearly 22 points below their scoring average. Pitt is the top-ranked rebounding team in the Big East (41.1) and second in the league in scoring defense (59.4).
“I’m very proud of our defensive effort,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “I thought we really buckled down and had a commitment to excelling on that end of the floor.”
While the defense once again excelled, it was important for Pitt’s offense to get back on track.
The Panthers shot 53.3 percent from the floor on Monday—their best effort in eight games—after connecting on just 34.9 percent and missing 15 of its final 16 shots in the loss to Louisville. They also matched their second-highest point total since starting Big East play.
While DeJuan Blair had 20 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games, Sam Young pulled out of a slump with 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Young, scoring a team-high 18.6 points per game this season, averaged 13.3 points on 30.6 percent shooting in his previous three games.
Senior point guard Levance Fields also regained his touch, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting after scoring eight points on 3-of-14 shooting against the Cardinals. He has totaled 29 points in his last two games versus the Mountaineers (14-4, 3-2).
Pitt split its two-game series with West Virginia last season with each team winning on its home court. The Panthers have lost three of their last four trips to Morgantown.
The Mountaineers return home after winning at No. 12 Georgetown 75-58 on Thursday. West Virginia, which was ranked earlier in the season, has won three straight games, and its only two losses in its last 10 came against then-No. 5 Connecticut and then-No. 18 Marquette.
Like the Panthers, the Mountaineers also depend on defense for success, as they are allowing a conference-low 58.9 points. West Virginia has forced a league-best 315 turnovers, and pressured the Hoyas into turning the ball over 19 times.
“We’re just so small. We have to be quick to the ball,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said.
While West Virginia’s defense has remained solid, offensive woes can be blamed for its losses to the Huskies and Golden Eagles.
In their three league wins, the Mountaineers have averaged 76.3 points and shot 47.1 percent from the field, including 40.0 percent from 3-point range. In two Big East losses, they shot 32.5 percent from the floor and 27.5 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 54.0 points.
Da’Sean Butler was 11-for-18 from the floor on Thursday to finish with 27 points in his second straight game. He shot 3-of-6 and had 10 points in West Virginia’s 76-62 home win over the Panthers last season, but was 1-for-9 from the field in the Mountaineers’ 55-54 loss at Pitt.
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