PITTSBURGH (AP)—Pitt was outrebounded, didn’t shoot well from behind the 3-point line for the second game in a row and got little production from its best player, 7-footer Aaron Gray.
No matter, Mike Cook scored 15 points and the seventh-ranked Panthers beat Washington 65-61 Saturday in the first game between the schools in more than 56 years. The Panthers’ effort reminded Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar of a much more familiar Pac-10 opponent: No. 5 UCLA.
“I think they’re right there with the best teams in the country,” Romar said of Pitt, which bounced back from a 66-53 loss Monday to unranked Louisville. “They’re not atop the Big East for nothing. They’re very physical … and UCLA and Pitt play very similarly for obvious reasons.”
UCLA’s Ben Howland coached Pitt from 1999-2003 before being succeeded by his former assistant, Jamie Dixon, so the two teams understandably play comparable styles. Washington (16-10) matched Pitt’s physical toughness, but lost because it couldn’t counter the Panthers’ quickness and athleticism.
Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon made two free throws each in the final 1:40 to prevent Pittsburgh (23-4) from being upset at home for the second time in six days. Gray was limited to five points on 2-of-7 shooting to match his season low and wasn’t a factor in the first half.
“When your star isn’t scoring, somebody else has to step up,” Cook said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys who can score. He didn’t try to force it, and that shows you how unselfish he is.”
Dixon has a bigger worry than Gray’s lack of scoring: the center’s sore left ankle. As Gray gathered the rebound of Ryan Appleby’s missed 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining and Pitt up 64-59, Gray tangled with Washington’s Jon Brockman and came down hard on the ankle.
Fields and Cook said they expect Gray to play Monday at Big East opponent Seton Hall, but Dixon isn’t so sure.
“He’s had ankle problems, but he went down pretty bad on this one,” Dixon said. “I think it’s going to be worse (than those sprains he’s had in practice), to be honest with you. But I hope I’m wrong.”
Gray didn’t produce much offense, but scored inside with 2:43 remaining to make it 60-57 and give him 1,000 points for his career—the 34th Pitt player to reach that mark. Fields and Ramon then made their free throws around a Spencer Hawes basket for Washington with 1:24 to play.
Washington’s talented but inexperienced front line of 6-foot-10 freshman Hawes and 6-7 sophomore Brockman teamed to shut down Gray, who didn’t score or get a rebound for the first 10-plus minutes of the game as Washington took a 20-13 lead. Gray, averaging 14.8 points, had scored in double figures for five consecutive games.
Brockman had 13 points and nine rebounds. Hawes had 12 points and 12 boards but missed 10 of his 16 shots for the Huskies, who couldn’t hold their early lead as Pitt went on a 16-3 run late in the first half.
Washington still hasn’t beaten a top 10 team on the road since defeating Kansas on Dec. 14, 1974, losing 32 in a row over than span. The Huskies had 16 turnovers to only six for Pitt, which committed 19 against Louisville on Monday.
“We needed to take care of the ball better,” Romar said.
That’s exactly what Pitt’s players told themselves before playing the school’s first non-Big East game in February since 1999. Fields had 14 points, Ramon added 11 and Sam Young had 10 for the Panthers, who won despite not getting a basket in the final 2:45.
With Gray and 6-10 Levon Kendall (four points) doing little at either end of the court, Dixon went much of the game with a smaller but quicker lineup in which 6-6 sophomore Young took Kendall’s place and the 6-1 Ramon played guard. Young and the 6-4 Cook gave Washington matchup problems, and they helped Pitt rally and take a 31-28 halftime lead even with Gray neutralized.
“Sam isn’t going to rebound as much as Levon, but he looks to score more,” Dixon said.
Pitt avoided losing successive games at the Petersen Events Center for only the second time since the arena opened in 2002, despite going 4-of-15 from 3-point range to 7-of-11 for Washington. Pitt is 7-of-36 from beyond the arc in its last two games.
The Panthers are 47-1 at the Petersen Events Center against non-conference opponents, losing only to Bucknell on Jan. 2, 2005. They hadn’t met Washington since the schools played back-to-back games in December 1950, during an eight-game West Coast trip for Pitt.