In a highly anticipated matchup between two Big East powers, Pittsburgh defeated the nation’s top-ranked team in a physical back-and-forth contest its last time out. It’s not expected to face anywhere near the same challenge Saturday.
The fourth-ranked Panthers look to avoid a letdown and continue the pursuit of their first conference title in five years when they host woeful DePaul, which is trying to avoid a school-record 14th consecutive loss.
Pittsburgh (24-2, 11-2), which climbed atop the AP poll for two weeks in January, could again receive No. 1 consideration after defeating top-ranked Connecticut 76-68 on Monday.
Power forward DeJuan Blair finished with 22 points and a career-high 23 rebounds to dominate the paint, while point guard Levance Fields provided clutch shooting down the stretch.
Fields missed his first eight shots before scoring all 10 of his points in the final 3:09. The senior’s first 3-pointer broke a 61-all tie, his second made it 67-61 with 2:21 to play and he added four free throws in the final minute.
“I’m obviously very proud of our guys and how we battled through,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “I know everyone was talking about this game going into it and obviously it lived up to it. Especially in our minds, as far as the result.”
UConn is still atop the Big East, but Pittsburgh, seventh-ranked Louisville and No. 10 Marquette are all a half-game back and have played one fewer conference game than the Huskies.
The Panthers, who have won all 16 home games this season and are 112-10 all-time at the Petersen Events Center, close the regular season at home against the Golden Eagles on March 4 and the Huskies on March 7. To have a chance to win its first Big East title since 2003-04, though, Pitt first must get by the Blue Demons (8-18, 0-13), Providence and Seton Hall.
The Panthers got off to a slow start at DePaul on Feb. 7, but outscored the Blue Demons 63-36 over the game’s final 23 minutes en route to a 92-69 victory.
Blair and Fields led the way in that win, just as they’ve done all season.
Blair, who had a career-high 32 points and 14 rebounds against DePaul, is averaging 20.0 points on 61.6 percent shooting and 13.8 rebounds during Pitt’s six-game winning streak.
“He’s a great, great basketball player. A terrific player, great warrior,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “He’s a nightmare for every single coach.”
Fields, leading the nation with 3.92 assists to every turnover, had a career-high 16 assists and one turnover while scoring 13 points versus DePaul.
Pitt has won all four meetings since the Blue Demons joined the Big East in 2005-06.
DePaul matched a school record with its 13th straight defeat in Sunday’s 99-54 loss to then-No. 5 Louisville.
The Blue Demons, who last dropped 13 consecutive games Jan. 15-March 5, 1997, have never lost 14 in a row.
They shot 34.5 percent from the field against the Cardinals, and are averaging 56.3 points on 38.3 percent shooting in their last six games.
DePaul’s Dar Tucker had 18 points against Pitt two weeks ago—slightly below his team-leading average—but was 6-of-19 from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. He’s 9-of-55 (16.4 percent) on 3-point attempts in 11 games during the new year.
The Blue Demons have been outscored by an average of 20.2 points in their seven losses against ranked conference foes this season.