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03/03/2013 5:45 PM EST
No. 23 Pitt slips by Villanova 73-64 in overtime
PITTSBURGH 73, VILLANOVA 64
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Dante Taylor spent four years at Pittsburgh
trying to live up to sky high expectations.
The former McDonald's All-American slogged through lengthy
stretches of mediocre play, his production never quite matching
the 6-foot-10 center's massive promise.
Still, the player coach Jamie Dixon called "the best teammate
we've ever had" found a way to provide an exclamation point to
both his career and his team's final home game as a member of
the Big East.
Taylor's emphatic breakaway dunk in the final seconds of
overtime closed out a 73-64 comeback victory over Villanova and
gave Taylor and best friend Tray Woodall an emotional sendoff on
"It was the best way to end it," said Taylor, who had seven
points and six rebounds in his first start in more than a year.
Perhaps it was the only way for the 23-ranked Panthers to wrap
up 31 seasons in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
Pitt (23-7, 11-6 Big East) trailed by nine in the second half
before tying it late in regulation and controlling the extra
session to put a dent in Villanova's NCAA tournament chances.
"You knew it was going to be like this," Dixon said. "You knew
it was going to come down to a couple possessions. That's what
it's been every time we played (Villanova)."
Though Taylor and Woodall (13 points, 11 assists) provided an
emotional lift it was the play of Talib Zanna and youngsters
Durand Johnson and James Robinson that propelled Pitt to its
third straight victory.
Talib Zanna scored nine of his 14 points in overtime and added a
career-high 19 rebounds. Johnson knocked down three 3-pointers
to help Pitt claw back and Robinson - who hadn't made a
3-pointer in weeks - hit two big ones.
The first tied the game at 57 with 33 seconds left in regulation
and the second gave Pitt a five-point cushion with 30 seconds
remaining in the extra period.
Villanova coach Jay Wright wanted Robinson to have the ball in
his hands with a chance to shoot. Wright just didn't expect the
ball to end up going through the net twice. Robinson had made
just 5 of 21 3-pointers in 16 Big East games.
"We wanted to help off of him," Wright said "But we didn't want
to give him an open shot. It's execution on our part. We've got
to do a better job."
Ryan Arcidiacono led Villanova with 23 points but the Wildcats
(18-12, 9-8) let an opportunity to pad their NCAA tournament
resume slip away. Mouphtaou Yarou added 14 points and eight
rebounds and JayVaughn Pinkston chipped in 13 but Villanova has
now dropped two straight at perhaps the most important time of
"You know you're running out of time," Wright said. "Yeah it's
tough but it's a season. We've got to bounce back and prepare
for the next game, that's what a season is all about."
It's a sentiment Zanna has learned from during a turbulent four
months. He was easily Pitt's best player during the
nonconference portion of the schedule but has struggled in Big
East play. He came in averaging just 7.0 points since league
play began, but matched that total during the first two minutes
of overtime as Pitt finally took control.
Zanna opened the extra session with a traditional three-point
play then added two free throws and a short jumper to give Pitt
a 64-57 lead.
"I just kept playing, kept crashing the glass and the ball kept
falling into my hands," Zanna said.
Villanova pulled within 66-64 on a 3-pointer by Arcidiacono but
Robinson responded by calmly draining a 3 from the left corner
with 30 seconds left and the Wildcats never scored again.
Taylor did, his dunk capping 24 mostly energetic minutes as he
filled in for freshman center Steven Adams, who was forced to
sit with a sprained left ankle. Playing in front of his mother
and members of his extended family, Taylor played with grit if
not always grace, a perfect metaphor for his career.
When Dixon pulled Taylor with a second remaining and the outcome
decided, Taylor clutched Woodall and walked off the floor in
"He's done everything we've asked and more," Dixon said. "He got
the ovation he deserved."
The final regular season game in a rivalry that dates back to
1960 looked a lot like the 64 meetings that came before. Neither
team could muster much momentum early as things turned physical
The first half featured more fouls (21) than field goals (18) as
Pittsburgh was unable to maintain an emotional lift from Taylor,
making his first start of the season on senior day with several
members of his extended family in attendance for the first time.
Even with the 7-foot Adams out, Villanova opted to work from the
outside in. Arcidiacono knocked down 3 3-pointers in the opening
20 minutes as the Wildcats - desperately trying to get back to
the NCAA tournament after missing it last spring - took a 28-25
lead into the break.
It didn't last, as Pitt closed a proud chapter in its history
while eyeing the start of a new one next fall when the Panthers
join Syracuse as new members of the ACC.
"You wonder how it can get any better than this in playing in
the best conference in the country," Dixon said. "But our hopes
and our plans are to make the ACC the best conference in the
country. That's why they came after us and Syracuse. They didn't
come after us to pull it down. They came after us to build it
Follow Will Graves on twitter at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP
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