Panthers break it open in first half


PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh won a combined 57 games and reached the NCAA round of 16 the last two seasons. Despite losing coach Ben Howland and star guard Brandin Knight, this team might be even better.

Antonio Graves, starting only because of Pittsburgh top scorer Carl Krauser's injury, hit three 3-pointers during a 24-5 run over the final 8½ minutes of the first half and the Panthers (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP) went on to beat William and Mary 70-55 Saturday.

Jaron Brown scored 19 points, Chevon Troutman had 18 and Graves added 10 during Pittsburgh's 34th consecutive home victory, 28 at the Petersen Events Center. William and Mary, playing its first
ranked team since losing to Maryland 103-75 in December 2001, fell to 7-75 against AP Top 25 teams despite 16 points each from Adam Hess and Zeb Cope.

Pitt's 14-0 start also is the school's best since its only undefeated season (21-0) in 1927-28.

Afterward, William and Mary coach Tony Shaver said his team was more intense and played harder, a notion first-year Pitt coach Jamie Dixon politely disputed.

"I was happy with our intensity and aggressiveness -- you saw guys out there diving for loose balls," said Dixon, who was promoted from assistant coach when Howland took the UCLA job. "Any
coach wants to say his team played the hardest, but I'm always going to be happy with our guys' effort."

That's not difficult to say when a team is undefeated, even if it has yet to meet a ranked opponent. The Panthers don't open Big East play until facing Virginia Tech on Tuesday, but seniors Brown,
Julius Page and Toree Morris already have won 90 games, the most of any class in school history. Pitt has gone 19-14, 29-6, 28-5 and 14-0 with them on its roster.

"I think we can be better (than those teams)," Brown said. "We've got a lot of depth. The guys are happy to have won 90 games, but it's not going to stop. We're going to keep on playing hard."

Krauser, the point guard who leads Pitt with a 15.6 scoring average, missed his third consecutive game with a groin injury. Julius Page, the second-leading scorer with a 13.8 average, was
held to four points and missed all nine shots -- he was 0-for-8 on 3-pointers -- yet it barely mattered.

Despite its non-challenging schedule -- Georgia, Florida State and Alabama are its best opponents to date -- Pitt has gotten unexpected contributions from players such as Graves, a freshman who didn't sign with the Panthers until August, and forward Mark McCarroll. He had only four points Saturday but, after playing little last season, was coming off a 26-point game against Georgia, his third double-digit effort in four games.

"We've played together and stayed on the same page (since preseason practice started," Brown said. "And we're not satisfied with where we are right now."

Pittsburgh, sweeping its non-conference schedule for the first time in school history, was troubled early by the Tribe's trapping zone defense and trailed 21-11 with 8:49 remaining in the first half.

Page's two free throws and Graves' first 3-pointer started the Panthers' comeback. Graves later put the Panthers up for the first time since the game's first basket with a 3-pointer that made it 23-21, finishing off a 12-0 run.

Graves, who had scored in double figures only twice previously, hit another 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half to give Pitt a 35-26 halftime lead.

"I wasn't looking for the shot at first, but they told me during a timeout to look for it and I started knocking them down," Graves said.

Pittsburgh was never seriously threatened after that, opening a 50-32 lead on Brown's baseline drive with just over six minutes gone in the second half, though the Tribe (4-6) got within 10 points with 3½ minutes remaining. Pitt used its size advantage to outrebound the Tribe 34-19.

"We had to hold our own on the boards and we didn't," Shaver said. "They are so big and so physical and we gave up too many second shots."