PHILADELPHIA (AP)—With its inside game stifled, Pitt got its transition offense going just in time.
Levance Fields scored 20 points and Aaron Gray had 14 points and 10 rebounds, leading No. 7 Pittsburgh over Villanova 65-59 on Monday night.
Antonio Graves had 13 points, including a clutch 3-pointer in the closing minutes, to help the Panthers (20-3, 8-1 in Big East) win for the 10th time in 11 games. Pitt set a school record by reaching the 20-win mark for the sixth consecutive season.
“It was great to make some adjustments,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We were playing stationary. We got better movement and more penetration in the second half.”
Curtis Sumpter scored 21 points for Villanova (14-7, 3-5). The Wildcats were seeking their third victory over a ranked opponent this month.
Fields’ fastbreak layup broke a 47-all tie with 6:03 left and Pitt led the rest of the way. Another layup by Fields following a turnover made it 51-47.
Mike Nardi’s layup cut it to 54-51. After a turnover, Nardi banked one in just before the shot clock expired to cut the deficit to 54-53.
But Graves hit a 3-pointer and Fields added another 3 to give Pitt a 60-55 lead with 51 seconds remaining.
The 7-foot Gray then blocked Sumpter’s shot and Graves iced it with a pair of free throws.
“We had great defensive possessions there,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “A couple times they were stuck, but they just kicked it out and those two (Fields and Graves) hit big shots that were contested.”
Villanova beat then-No. 21 Notre Dame on Jan. 17 and defeated then No. 21 Texas three days later. The Wildcats used a matchup zone most of the game, and trapped quite effectively in the first half.
But Pitt turned to its little man—Fields—in the second half instead of relying on Gray.
“We got it going with our fastbreak,” Fields said. “It was a tribute to our defense. That’s what made it happen.”
Gray credited the backcourt for making tough shots at crucial times.
“We’re not a team of just Aaron Gray,” he said. “They should get a lot of attention. I would never underestimate them.”
Pitt took its first lead since before the midpoint of the first half when Keith Benjamin hit a 3-pointer to make it 38-37 with 12:21 left.
Benjamin sank another 3 to extend the lead to 43-37 a few minutes later. Nardi finally ended Pitt’s 12-0 run with a 3-pointer, and Scottie Reynolds’ driving layup tied it at 45.
Villanova turned the ball over on five of seven possessions during Pitt’s run.
“A couple breakdowns here or there is the difference,” Nardi said. “They never stopped playing.”
Playing tenacious defense, Villanova held Pitt to under 30 percent shooting in the first half and forced 11 turnovers to take a 28-23 lead.
A 10-0 run put the Wildcats ahead 23-17, and Sumpter answered Fields’ 3-pointer with one of his own to make it 26-20.
Sumpter came off the bench for the third straight game since a deep bone bruise in his left shin forced him to sit out a victory over Texas on Jan. 20. He also had nine rebounds.
Villanova had won six straight games at the Wachovia Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers. A raucous crowd filled an arena that usually has plenty of empty seats.
Once again, Sixers executive vice president Larry Brown watched the game from a suite.