No. 17 Villanova squeaks past No. 13 Pitt 64-63

January 6, 2008 9:29:25 PM PST
Pittsburgh had run the play twice before in big situations and it worked both times. On Sunday, the Panthers' chance to win their Big East opener became another turnover in a game filled with them. Dante Cunningham made two free throws with 10 seconds left and No. 17 Villanova then forced that final turnover by No. 13 Pittsburgh for a 64-63 victory.

"We ran that play for the win over Duke and we ran it at the end of the first half today and it worked both times," Pitt guard Keith Benjamin said. "The other times nobody hedged hard. Villanova did that time and we lost the ball."

The turnover was the 22nd of the game for the Panthers, matching their season high in the overtime win over Duke. They came into the game averaging 12.9.

"Twenty-two turnovers means 22 shots you didn't get the chance to take," Benjamin said. "That's what makes is so hard that this one got away from us."

It didn't matter that because of injuries Pittsburgh used only seven players and six of them went at least 23 minutes.

"We didn't get tired. We battled," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

Freshman Malcolm Grant had a season-high 22 points for the Wildcats (11-2, 1-1), who took advantage of their depth against the Panthers (12-2, 0-1).

DeJuan Blair scored on a flip in the lane with 1:36 left to give Pittsburgh a 63-62 lead. Both teams failed to score on their next possessions. Grant took a wild shot for Villanova with 15 seconds left but the Wildcats retained possession when there was a held ball on the rebound.

"Oh, it was so bad I couldn't even get the ball up, really," Grant said, referring to his cramps in both legs late in the game. "I didn't want to come out but I couldn't stand up."

Scottie Reynolds found Cunningham inside and he was fouled with 10 seconds left. A 68 percent free throw shooter for the season, Cunningham made both for the one-point lead.

"We practice those situations every day," Cunningham said. "Honestly, my heart wasn't racing and we had the home crowd, too."

Ronald Ramon brought the ball down court for the Panthers, who were out of timeouts, and he lost it near the head of the key when Villanova switched on defense.

"Scottie got caught in a switch," Villanova's Antonio Pena said of the final play. "I got a hand on it and it kind of popped up."

Pena had 12 points for Villanova, while Cunningham finished with six points and nine rebounds.

Sam Young had 16 points for the Panthers, who are playing without injured starters Mike Cook (knee) and Levance Fields (foot). Cook, a forward, is out for the season while Fields, the primary ballhandler, is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.

Villanova's reserves outscored Pittsburgh's two, 39-7.

"We were strong enough to battle back and get the lead," Dixon said. "Sometimes we were on our heels with the traps and we knew they were coming and we should have been stronger. Nobody's got their heads down over the injuries. If they did we wouldn't have battled back."

Blair had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Panthers, who finished with a 43-31 rebound advantage and outshot Villanova 45.5 percent to 33.9 percent.

Grant was 6-for-12 from the field, including 4-for-7 on 3s. He had 14 points in the first half that ended in a 30-30 tie.

"He's incredible. He's a freshman but he's the heart and soul of our team," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I try to diminish that but I can't. He's really energized our team since he's gotten here."

Grant was still in obvious pain from the cramps almost an hour after the game ended.

"I just made some shots and that got my teammates going and they followed my lead," he said.

Cunningham's free throws accounted for the fourth lead change in the final 2:13.

It was Villanova's fifth straight win over Pittsburgh at the on-campus Pavilion. The Panthers had won five of the last seven overall meetings with the Wildcats.

This was the ninth matchup of ranked teams in the 20-year history of the Pavilion and Villanova is 7-2 in those games. Pittsburgh had been the opponent in four of those games and Villanova has won three.