PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The rosters change, the scenario stays the
same. It's late in the season, which means it's time for Big East
rivals Connecticut and Pittsburgh to go in opposite directions.
Marcus Williams put Connecticut (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today; No. 17 AP) ahead to stay with a
driving layup off the glass with 3½ minutes remaining and the
Huskies stayed in contention for the Big East regular-season title,
beating skidding Pittsburgh 73-64 Saturday.
Williams, a sophomore point guard whose quickness and ability to
cut through traffic repeatedly frustrated the Panthers (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today; No. 18 AP),
had several key baskets during a second-half rally as UConn (19-6,
11-3) atoned for an earlier home-court loss to Pitt (18-7, 8-6).
"We had to get them back," Williams said. "We secured a bye
in the Big East (tournament) and that's big."
Despite Chevon Troutman's 22 points and 12 rebounds in his final
regular-season home game, Pitt's freefall continued with its third
consecutive loss -- its longest losing streak since it dropped four
straight in February 2001.
The end of this season is playing out much like last season,
when Pitt won the Big East regular-season title but UConn came on
strong to win the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm not surprised at all, I knew all along what we're capable
of doing," said Charlie Villanueva, who had 14 points and 13
rebounds in UConn's seventh consecutive conference victory. "I've
always said once we put it together, it was going to be a scary
Williams had consecutive baskets during a 10-2 UConn run to
begin the second half, then started a game-ending 9-1 run with his
go-ahead basket. Josh Boone and Rudy Gay followed with baskets and
Denham Brown added two free throws with 2:08 remaining to make it
70-63, effectively ending it.
Gay scored 17, Brown 16 and Williams 13 as the balanced Huskies
prevented No. 3 Boston College (23-2, 12-2) from clinching the Big
East regular-season title. The Eagles beat Seton Hall 70-58 earlier
Boston College has games remaining against Pitt and Rutgers,
while UConn plays Georgetown and Syracuse.
Last month, Pittsburgh overcame a 17-point deficit to win at
UConn 76-66 as Troutman scored a career-high 29 points. The
Panthers have also beaten No. 15 Syracuse twice, but they've lost
to St. John's, Georgetown and West Virginia (twice).
"I think Pitt's a little different now," Villanueva said.
"Normally, Pitt puts these kind of games away. When we played in
our place, they overcame a 17-point deficit, but we refused to let
Pitt, which wasted a late 14-point lead in losing 70-66 to West
Virginia on Wednesday, dropped consecutive home games for the
second time this season, following up January losses to Bucknell
and Georgetown. Pitt went 13-4 at home after losing only once in
its first two seasons at the Petersen Events Center.
This game was critical to Pitt, which is in danger of missing a
first-round tournament bye. Pitt has played in the last four Big
East championship games, losing three times.
"A bye would definitely help -- it's tough to play four
tournament games (in four days)," said point guard Carl Krauser,
who had 21 points and seven assists. "But I believe in everybody
on this team and I think we're going to do a good job of coming
back and putting everything together."
The Panthers' soft early schedule and late slump have endangered
their NCAA Tournament hopes, especially with tough games at No. 3
Boston College (Monday) and Notre Dame (March 5) remaining.
With three consecutive losses, Pitt could fall out of the Top 25
for the first time in 60 weeks.
"The guys are hurting," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "You
need for some things to go right, but we seem to be coming up short
in some areas. We've just got to come back -- we're going to try to
get this thing untracked Monday."
Again, Pitt's opponent was poised and made more key shots down
the stretch, while the Panthers were erratic and looked out of
sync. They missed 10 of their final 15 free throws, shooting 48.3
percent (14-of-29) while losing a six-point lead in the second
half. Pitt also missed all but four of 22 3-point attempts.
It didn't help that 6-foot-10 Chris Taft played most of the game
in foul trouble and was held to seven points and three rebounds in
25 minutes. Pitt also had only two baskets in the final 5½ minutes
after not getting any in the final 7:26 against West Virginia.