1:00 PM ET, December 31, 2002
Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland would be more upset at the Panthers missing an opportunity to become No. 1 if Tuesday's loss to Georgia were in April instead of December.The Panthers wasted a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, losing to the Bulldogs 79-67 as Ezra Williams scored 20 points.Second-ranked Pittsburgh (9-1) never has led The Associated Press poll. The 1987-88 team also reached No. 2, the only other time the Panthers have been ranked that high.Alabama (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 1 AP) lost at Utah on Monday night, opening the way for Pitt to possibly move up."I don't think it was a big deal," Howland said. "The good thing about college basketball is that there's going to be a national champion that's decided in the NCAA Tournament. It's not like football.""As great as it would be to be ranked No. 1 in December, what's really important is come March and April, for everybody," Howland said. Jarvis Hayes added 18 points for the Bulldogs (8-3), who won their seventh straight. It's the second straight season they've beaten a No. 2 team; they won 84-79 at Florida in January. Coach Jim Harrick hardly took time to savor the victory, quickly turning his attention to the next two games on the schedule -- home against No. 21 LSU and at No. 12 Florida."The games coming up are more important for us," Harrick said. "LSU and Florida and the 14 coming up after that."Ontario Lett and Carl Krauser had 14 apiece for Pittsburgh, but Brandin Knight never got going. The 6-foot guard was 4-for-17 from the field, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers, and finished with only 10 points. Teammate Julius Page also struggled, missing all six of his shots and scoring only two points. He had been averaging 13.6 points. Knight hurt his ankle in the first half when he landed on the foot of teammate Jaron Brown. He returned after a brief rest. "I just missed some open shots," Knight said. "You're going to have days like that, they just weren't falling." The Panthers got within six on Knight's layup with 7:24 to go, but Georgia responded with a quick six-point spurt to regain control. The run was highlighted by a beautiful give-and-go between Rashad Wright and Chris Daniels, with Daniels grabbing the ball out of the air and gently putting it in. "The intensity of the play had an NCAA Tournament atmosphere to it," Harrick said. The Panthers won their first nine games by an average of 26.6 points, taking advantage of a schedule ranked 274th toughest in the country. They've got one more non-conference game -- Saturday against Robert Morris -- before opening the Big East schedule at home against No. 6 Notre Dame. "They didn't know what to expect," Wright said. "It was a test for them. We came out and played hard." The Bulldogs have righted themselves after a 1-3 start, mainly due to the return of center Steve Thomas. He was academically ineligible for the first seven games. "Once we got our main man back in the middle, we haven't lost a game," Hayes said. "We expected to win this game." Pittsburgh led only once, when Brown scored the first basket, and Georgia opened a 29-12 lead midway through the first half. Hayes made his first three shots, including two 3s. For the game, the Bulldogs shot 57 percent and held the Panthers to 40 percent. "They made some tough shots," Howland said of Georgia. "They made shots with guys hanging all over them. We knew it would be a tough game, playing a quality opponent, a team that I think has a chance to be one of the best teams in the country when it's all done."