MORGANTOWN - There's not a better rebounding team in the country than No. 4 Pitt. So when the Panthers made their annual trek to the Coliseum Monday night short-handed in the backcourt, it didn't really matter.
Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson were all the Panthers needed, even with West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli having the game of his life.
Pitt dominated West Virginia on the boards, scoring time and again on second and third shots, and pulled away late to beat the Mountaineers 71-66 in front of a sellout crowd of 14,175 and a Big Monday audience on ESPN.
The Panthers got 42 of their 71 points in the paint, taking advantage of 18 offensive rebounds - a combined 10 by McGhee and Robinson - and turning back every West Virginia challenge.
"They kept on attacking and we didn't,'' West Virginia forward Kevin Jones said. "All five of them attacked the glass. As soon as you blocked out one of them, another one was coming.''
The loss came on the same day that Associated Press voters kept the Mountaineers in the Top 25 despite a Saturday loss at Villanova. Now, with a second loss in a row and four in the past seven games, the Mountaineers (15-8, 6-5 Big East) probably should not get comfortable with that ranking beyond next week's polls.
For Pitt, the win further solidified a stranglehold on first place in the Big East. The Panthers (22-2, 10-1) are a full two games ahead of the field in the conference.
Pitt played without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs. The junior guard, who had 25 points Saturday in a win over Cincinnati, is out for at least 10 days with an injured knee.
That was of little consequence to West Virginia, though, because it was not in the backcourt where the Panthers won the game. They tried just six 3-pointers and made only one, and even mid-range jumpers were rare.
But Pitt attacked the rim relentlessly. Robinson and McGhee were a combined 12-for-18 shooting and each had five offensive rebounds. West Virginia got a career-high 19 points from Kilicli, who was nearly unstoppable with his post hook move, but that was essentially all the Mountaineers had on offense. They missed 13 of their 17 3-pointers and got very few second-chance shots. Pitt, which leads the nation in rebounding margin at plus-12.6, outrebounded WVU 40-28.
The reason was simple, coach Bob Huggins said: Pitt is simply more talented.
"They outmanned us is what happened,'' Huggins said. "They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it. They just outmanned us.''
Not that West Virginia still didn't have a chance, however. The truth is, most teams in the Big East outman West Virginia in one fashion or another, but this team more often than not has found a way to win.
Not on this night, though, despite holding an early eight-point lead and keeping the score to within a basket most of the game. With four minutes to play Pitt led just 59-58 after a Kilicli three-point play. It was still within a basket at 63-60 with 70 seconds to go.
But every time West Virginia closed the gap and seemed to defend Pitt well, the Panthers got second and third chances. Other times they didn't need the follow shots because they scored from in close and turned them into three-point plays. The back-breaker was Gilbert Brown's layup and free throw with 1:10 to go that turned a 63-60 Pitt lead into 66-60 and all but closed the door.
"Even when we made runs, they played through it,'' said Jones, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. "And they did a good job of drawing fouls. They're an experienced team and they played like it.''
Perhaps all the second shots might have mattered a little less had West Virginia been able to make a few of its own shots. The Mountaineers actually shot fairly well - 44 percent, the same as Pitt - but that was deceptive. Kilicli's 9-for-13 performance skewed the numbers, but he had a difficult time getting shots. Jones was 5-for-11 from the floor but missed five straight at one point. Dalton Pepper came off the bench to make his only two shots, both 3-pointers, but Pitt did a good job of denying him after he drained two.
The rest of the Mountaineers were a combined 7-for-26. Casey Mitchell was 2-for-10 and Truck Bryant continued to toss the same bricks he has shot for more than a month now, going 2-for-8. Take out Pepper's two 3-pointers and the Mountaineers were 2-for-15 outside the arc.
Eventually Huggins just gave up on trying to make shots and ordered everyone to post up, even Joe Mazzulla and Mitchell.
"After a while you just have to stop shooting,'' Huggins said. "And for the most part [the shots that were missed] were pretty good looks. We just can't shoot.''
West Virginia is now off until a Saturday afternoon home game against DePaul (6-16, 0-10), one of just two unranked teams remaining on the Mountaineers' schedule. But after the Blue Demons is another short turnaround for the second week in a row. WVU then plays at No. 12 Syracuse Monday night.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.
Pitt 71, WVU 66
Pittsburgh (22-2, 10-1)
Player FG FT R A P
Gilbert Brown 3-8 3-6 2 3 9