Panthers set to Battle Louisville

The Panthers (26-6) handled Marquette easily in the quarterfinal round and are in the semifinals against the Cardinals. It's Pitt's sixth semifinal appearance in the past seven seasons. Louisville beat Pitt in the only meeting between the two teams about a month ago, so the Panthers are looking to turn the tables this time around.

Pitt was able to do that against Marquette, which won the two regular-season meetings, by switching up defenses to keep the Golden Eagles off-balance. The Panthers primarily played their tenacious man-to-man defense, however, but the difference this time around was they forced a lot of turnovers by Marquette and did not give up their own possessions.  Pitt turned the ball over just seven times, nearly a season-low, while forcing the Golden Eagles to fumble away possessions on 14 occasions.

 "We wanted to prove to all the doubters that we're still the best team in the Big East,'' Pitt junior forward Mike Cook said. "It was motivation for us all week. We wanted to get another shot at Marquette, and we proved we could beat anybody with the way that we played in this game.''

Senior Aaron Gray was dominant with 22 points and 10 rebounds, which he was not in the last game, while Cook added 16 points and seven boards and sophomore forward Sam Young chipped in with 17 points. Sophomore point guard Levance Fields had 13 points, while senior Antonio Graves had 10. So, it was a balanced offensive attack for the Panthers.

"We're a well-balanced team,'' Gray said. "We're not a one-man show. We have a lot of options and a lot of guys who can score.''

Pitt also had a little luck on its side, something sorely lacking in previous games when it appeared that the ball rarely bounced its way. Fields banked in a 3-point shot at one point in the second half to improve the lead to double-figures. So, all in all, it was a solid Panthers win. It would be nice if they could shoot a little better from the field and the free-throw line, but that's not to diminish how well they played against Marquette.

Pitt scored 89 points, so it must have been doing something right. But its field-goal percentage was slightly less than 50 percent, and it was 27-for-41 from the line (nearly 66 percent). The Panthers canned about 10 straight at one point and made 10 more free throws than Marquette, which was 17-for-19.

The same type of game will need to occur for Pitt to beat Louisville. There are some match-up problems that could hurt the Panthers if they get in transition too often, like they did in regular-season loss, but they managed to figure out how to beat Marquette after losing twice and have the same motivation to beat the Cardinals.

So, it's another chance for a payback for Pitt and a chance to play in their sixth title game in seven seasons. If that happens and the opponent is Georgetown, well, the Hoyas also have a late-season win against the Panthers.But first, Pitt has to take care of one payback at a time.

 

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