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Mountaineers' Climb stops Pitt 76-72

PITTSBURGH -- West Virginia lost the last time it brought a nationally ranked team to play Pittsburgh in the downtown Civic Arena, yet still made the NCAA tournament. This time, a victory in the same arena might help get the Mountaineers there.

Jarrod West's 3-pointer with 2:46 to play put West Virginia ahead to stay, and Adrian Pledger's two free throws finished off Pittsburgh as the 17th-ranked Mountaineers rallied for a 76-72 victory Wednesday night.

West Virginia (18-3, 8-3 Big East), which won its fourth in a row and seventh in eight games, opened a 15-6 lead, fell behind by four points in the second half, then outscored the slumping Panthers 10-4 over the final four minutes.

Afterwork, West Virginia forward Damian Owens began lobbying to get the Mountaineers into the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.

"This is a team that needs to be in the tournament," said Owens, who scored 16 points despite aggravating a knee injury during the first half. "We struggled a little bit, but we came out hard in the last two minutes."

It was the first game between the teams in the Civic Arena since Pittsburgh upset the then nationally-ranked Mountaineers 79-72 in the now-defunct Eastern Eight tournament finals in 1982.

The Panthers (7-8, 2-6), coming off a 22-point loss at Big East tailender Rutgers, lost their third straight and fourth in five games and might have been better off playing in their on-campus fieldhouse. The crowd of 8,978 looked lost amid the nearly 8,000 empty seats.

"It was a little different without as many students, but I don't think (it was a factor)," Pittsburgh's Jarrett Lockhart said. "They're a Top 25 team and we really wanted this one."

Neither team's star -- Owens nor Pittsburgh's Vonteego Cummings -- played particularly well in a sloppy game that saw the teams combine for 32 turnovers, 20 by the Panthers. West Virginia shot 47 percent but was 3-of-14 from 3-point range.

Owens, averaging 19.7 points, scored only six points in the second half. Cummings, who has played virtually every minute of Pittsburgh's eight conference games, had 17 points -- only two below his average -- but also had nine turnovers.

Brent Solheim had 16 points and Brian Lewin, averaging only 6.7, added 15 for the more experienced Mountaineers, who started four seniors. Jarrett Lockhart had 17 points for the Panthers, who have no senior scholarship players and used only seven players, one who played only a minute.

West Virginia's front line outscored the smaller Panthers 57-27.

"But Pitt really cranked it up in the second half and shot the ball better than I expected," West Virginia coach Gale Catlett said. "I'm pleased we had the poise down the stretch to shoot the ball, hit the free throws and do what we had to do to win."

Fatigue clearly was a factor down the stretch after West's 3-pointer, only his second basket of the game, gave West Virginia its first lead i4½ minutes at 69-68.

"One of our biggest problems is we have too many players playing too many minutes," Pittsburgh coach Ralph Willard said. "Not one of the WVU players played more than 18 minutes in a row. Our kids don't believe they can win this type of game. They were very tentative, before the game and during it."

After West Virginia went ahead, Pittsburgh's Kellii Taylor threw the ball away attempting a no-look pass in the lane. Taylor's turnover on a behind-the-back pass led to Pittsburgh's 90-83 double-overtime loss to St. John's last week.

Attila Cosby scored for Pittsburgh, but Brent Solheim's layup on an inbounds play and Lewin's free throw pushed the lead to 74-70. Lockhart scored on a layup with 15 seconds to go before Pledger made his two decisive free throws a second later.

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