Pittsburgh-Marquette Preview


Davante Gardner gave Marquette a needed lift with the best game of his collegiate career. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is desperate for anyone to do the same.

Gardner and the 25th-ranked Golden Eagles try to keep the Panthers in their current tailspin Saturday when the Big East rivals meet in Milwaukee.

The 6-foot-8, 290-pound Gardner has started seven of Marquette's nine games since Chris Otule suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 6 against Washington. The sophomore had reached double figures in scoring in five of the previous eight games, including his first double-double in a Jan. 1 win over Villanova, before putting together an impressive 22-point, 15-rebound effort Wednesday when Marquette (13-4, 2-2) pulled away for an 83-64 win over St. John's.

"I thought he was the reason we won the game," coach Buzz Williams said about Gardner, who is averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 59.4 percent.

Darius Johnson-Odom added 18 of his 20 points in the second half, and fellow senior Jae Crowder scored 11 of his 15 in the final 20 minutes as the Golden Eagles shook off road losses to Georgetown and Syracuse. They are now in the middle of a three-game homestand, which concludes with a Monday afternoon contest versus No. 14 Louisville.

"If we can play 40 minutes the way we did (Wednesday) in the second half and the way we did in the second half against Syracuse, then I like our chances," Williams said. "But I don't think you can beat elite-level teams, which means you can't be an elite team yourself, if you can't play 40 minutes."

The Panthers (11-6, 0-4) have been an elite team for most of the past few seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament 10 straight years, but they have been one of the bigger disappointments in the country in 2011-12.

Currently the only team without a victory in Big East play, Pitt enters a stretch of three games against ranked opponents - its first three all season - following Wednesday's 62-39 home loss to Rutgers.

Coach Jamie Dixon's team went 4 for 32 from the field in the first half and shot 21.1 percent (12 for 57) for the game while being outrebounded 51-35.

"There is not a lot we can say," Dixon said after Pitt's fifth straight loss, the longest skid in his nine seasons in charge. "We realize that we are not playing anywhere close to where we should be playing. Our guys are extremely disappointed. The locker room was silent after the game."

One of Pitt's problems has been the absence of point guard Tray Woodall, who averages 12.4 points and 7.5 assists but has missed nine of the last 10 games due to an abdominal injury. Star guard and leading scorer Ashton Gibbs is averaging 16.2 points overall, but is shooting 36.2 percent in those 10 games while also trying to run the offense.

"I have to be more patient on the screens and when I find myself open, I have to knock down the shot," said Gibbs, who has made only 33.9 percent of his 3-pointers this season after hitting 49.0 percent in 2010-11. "I have great expectations for myself and I need to step up and make shots."

Pitt has not lost six consecutive games since Jan. 22-Feb. 5, 1998.

The Panthers have won the last four games between the teams to take an 8-6 lead in the all-time series. Gibbs hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points as Pitt shot 60.0 percent in an 89-81 victory in the only meeting last season.