After being ranked in the top 10 just two weeks ago with an undefeated Big East record, Pittsburgh has fallen on hard times and is likely on its way out of the Top 25. Seton Hall has already contributed to the Panthers’ struggles during this stretch.
Losers of four of five, No. 22 Pittsburgh looks to avoid being swept in a season series by the Pirates for the first time in 16 years when they meet Saturday at the Petersen Events Center.
Picked to finish ninth in the Big East, the Panthers (16-6, 6-4) got off to a surprising start to conference play with five consecutive victories, including road wins over then-No. 5 Syracuse and then-No. 15 Connecticut.
Pittsburgh was ranked No. 9 in the Jan. 18 poll and was in solid position to win its first Big East championship since 2004, but very little has gone right since.
The Panthers are coming off a 70-51 loss at No. 6 West Virginia on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh was thoroughly embarrassed by its rival, getting outrebounded 45-31, shooting a season-worst 30.2 percent and being held to its second-lowest point total. Only two players reached double figures in scoring as Ashton Gibbs, who averages a team-best 16.5 points, scored 11 on 2-of-13 shooting.
“(The Mountaineers) deserved to win,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was 43-41 and we didn’t get a rebound after that and that’s where we got beat. We have some things to improve on. We have to move past this game and get ready for our next one against Seton Hall.”
Although the Pirates (12-8, 3-6) are in 12th place in the Big East, the Panthers probably won’t take them lightly after suffering a 64-61 road loss Jan. 24.
The Pirates limited Pitt to 35.3 percent shooting, forced 20 turnovers and basically beat the Panthers at their own slowdown game. Gibbs missed 11 of 15 shots but still finished with a game-high 23 points by converting all 14 free-throw attempts.
Seton Hall won despite its own problems. The Pirates shot 2 of 13 from 3-point range, were outrebounded 39-25 and leading scorer Jeremy Hazell was limited to nine points in a season-low 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
Herb Pope stepped up with 19 points and nine rebounds for Seton Hall, which will be trying to sweep the season series for the first time since 1993-94.
The Pirates were unable to build on the marquee win over the Panthers, losing to South Florida 76-74 in overtime Jan. 28 and falling to No. 2 Villanova 81-71 on Tuesday.
Seton Hall had a chance at pulling off another upset Tuesday, leading 58-56 with 12:55 remaining, but made 6 of 21 shots the rest of the way.
Hazell, the Big East’s second-leading scorer with an average of 23.0 points, scored 32 against the Wildcats but didn’t play the final 4 minutes of the game. Coach Bobby Gonzalez was unhappy with Hazell’s attempt at taking over the game without the help of his teammates and hopes he’ll learn from the benching.
The Pirates have lost 15 consecutive road games to ranked opponents since a 65-61 win over then-No. 8 Pitt on March 3, 2006.