Pittsburgh controlled the tempo and the offensive rebounding to hand No. 3 Villanova its second consecutive loss.
Ashton Gibbs scored 21 points, Gilbert Brown added 16 and Gary McGhee’s 10 rebounds led the No. 19 Panthers to the upset of the Wildcats 70-65 on Sunday. The first meeting between the two teams since Villanova’s dramatic NCAA tournament win last year turned out to be another typical, physical Big East matchup. Last season, star guard Scottie Reynolds’ last-second dash to the basket gave the Wildcats a 78-76 win to send them to the Final Four.
No last-second heroics on Sunday for Reynolds, who finished with 20 points.
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"I wanted to win that game for the players that left last year," said Pitt guard Jermaine Dixon, one of only two seniors on this year’s squad. "I felt bad for losing that game and I felt responsible and I definitely wanted to win that game for them."
This time, the Panthers (21-6, 10-4) built up enough of a cushion to hold up against the Wildcats (22-4, 11-3), who lost back-to-back games for the first time in two seasons and fell a game back of Big East leader Syracuse.
"I think the good thing about our team is that they understand how to move on to the next game," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "When we were winning, that’s what we told them. It’s what we always talk about."
Villanova was expected to contend for the Big East title from the start of this season. For Pitt its successful season is a surprise given all the talent it lost from last season’s team, including big man DeJuan Blair.
But Pitt’s third victory over a top five opponent this season — the Panthers have also beaten the Orange and West Virginia — has coach Jamie Dixon’s team brimming with confidence.
Pitt pulled into a tie for third in the Big East with West Virginia, two games behind Syracuse.
"We stepped closer to winning the Big East regular season," Jermaine Dixon said. "Last year, we put it past us now that this game is over, and that’s just a step to us getting the Big East regular season."
Reynolds spent most of the first half on the bench with two fouls and had to fend off harassing defense from the Panthers, including Dixon, much of the afternoon.
Brown’s thunderous dunk off a baseline move with 1:29 left gave the Panthers (21-6, 10-4 Big East) a six-point lead.
Still, the Wildcats have showed they can’t be counted out in tight games, not with Reynolds on their side.
He scored 17 points in the second half, hitting 3s and drawing fouls to keep Villanova within striking distance. But Pitt had an answer every time the Wildcats came within a basket.
The Panthers missed a few free throws late to keep things interesting. Reynolds’ three foul shots with 7 seconds left got the Wildcats within three, but Pitt withstood Villanova’s late pressure.
Reynolds’ layup with 1.4 seconds left got Villanova within 68-65.
Gibbs was fouled almost immediately and hit both foul shots to relieve the Pitt crowd.
Villanova, which averaged 85 points coming into Sunday, was out of its offensive element. Pitt limited its mistakes.
"We wanted to shorten the game. We tried to press," Wright said. "They were never beaten by our press."
The Panthers controlled the rebounding, especially on the offensive end, where they held a 21-12 advantage. That gave Pitt some crucial extra possessions to keep the ball out of Reynolds’ hands.
When Villanova did have the ball, it had trouble finding good shots.
"They went deeper into the shot clock than we did because we were able to control them defensively," Jaime Dixon said. "We had a handle on their penetration to the basket as well as their screens. It wasn’t until the end … when they started scoring."
Corey Fisher added 12 points for the Wildcats.
With Reynolds on the bench much of the first half, Villanova’s high-octane offense grounded to a halt. The Wildcats shot 9 of 26 over the first 20 minutes (34.6 percent) — well below their season average of 46.7 percent.
Led by the raucous student section dubbed the "Oakland Zoo," the full house at the Peterson Events Center cheered wildly when Reynolds took a seat with his second foul at 9:21 of the first half. The attendance of 12,920 set a school record for the largest on-campus crowd.
Already upset by a string of foul calls, Wright stomped on the sideline, then got whistled for a technical after jawing with the official.
His team has a couple days to regroup before returning home to face South Florida on Wednesday, with a showdown against the Orange at the Carrier Dome looming next weekend.
"It’s been a long time since we lost back-to-back games," Reynolds said. "I can’t hang my head and I can’t let the other guys hang their [heads] either."