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Pitt looking to rebound in game vs. Villanova

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 10:10 p.m.
AP Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon reacts to play in the second half of the NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 67-62. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Jamie Dixon has stressed the importance of Pitt leaving the Big East on a strong note, and the Panthers want to leave a lasting impression on each of their final trips to a traditional rival.

Pitt handed Georgetown a 28-point defeat that was its most lopsided loss in league history. The Panthers (13-4, 1-3) would love nothing more than to do the same to Villanova (11-5, 2-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Pavilion.

“We've talked as a whole about playing different teams for the last time and what we want to do to finish out here, as far as the Big East,” Dixon said. “We've got plenty of motivation, there's no question — as with any Big East game any year we've played. That's always a fun place to play, and we're looking forward to it.”

Of the 63 meetings between the in-state rivals — Villanova leads the all-time series, 32-31 — 14 have been at the 6,500-seat on-campus arena where the Wildcats have 132 consecutive sellouts and own an .805 winning percentage. Villanova is 9-5 against Pitt at The Pavilion, although the Panthers won the last meeting, 57-54, on Feb. 12, 2011.

Pitt actually has won the past four meetings against Villanova, dating to the 78-76 loss to the Wildcats in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, when Scottie Reynolds' last-second shot prevented the Panthers from reaching the Final Four.

The Panthers must reverse two of their shortcomings in their three Big East losses: perimeter defense and rebounding.

The Wildcats rank third in 3-pointers made (6.3) and have a sharpshooter in Ryan Arcidiacono, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who has made at least one trey every game, three or more in six games and had seven 3s in a 32-point effort against St. John's.

In that sense, Villanova compares favorably to its Final Four team.

“This team could maybe shoot a little bit better,” said Pitt fifth-year senior point guard Tray Woodall, who is expected to return from a concussion sustained in Saturday's 74-67 overtime loss to Marquette. “The point guard shoots it probably as good as Scottie Reynolds used to shoot it. We've just got to be ready and be aware.”

More concerning is that, through three Big East games, Villanova leads the conference in rebounding (43 per game), offensive rebounding (16.7) and rebounding margin (plus-9.7).

The Panthers have lost the battle of the boards in all three of their league losses, and know that they can't afford many more defeats if they hope to qualify for an NCAA Tournament berth after having their 10-year streak of tournament appearances broken last season.

“That's simply what I've been saying all year long,” Dixon said. “It hasn't cost us until these last three games that we lost — we won the rebounding when we beat Georgetown — and the numbers don't lie. We need to get it done. I think it starts with our defense, too.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or @KGorman_Trib.

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