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Fields, Graves have all the answers for Pittsburgh

Jan 30, 2007 - 5:39 AM PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- After a sluggish first half, Levance Fields and Antonio Graves had a timely response for every Villanova surge down the stretch.

Fields and Graves came up big in the second half and No. 7 Pittsburgh rode its backcourt duo to a 65-59 Big East Conference victory over Villanova.

After combining for just nine points in the first half, Fields and Graves came alive after the break. Fields broke a 47-47 tie with a layup with 6:04 to go that gave the Panthers the lead for good, 49-47.

"They obviously hit big shots. I think they hit the same shots we missed in the first half," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's why we didn't panic. We're a good shooting team. We pass the ball well. Once we started doing that, we knew that the shots would fall."

Villanova (14-7, 3-5 Big East) was looking for its third win over a ranked opponent this month and did not go quietly but anytime the Wildcats got close, either Fields or Graves came through for the Panthers.

"I want to give Pitt credit, they played like a huge Big East team," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I thought we played well. It was just timely mistakes on our part and timely shots on their part. I think that was the difference in the game."

Mike Nardi scored two straight baskets to pull Villanova within 54-53 with 2:23 to play but Graves answered with a 3-pointer to push the Pittsburgh lead back to four. Two free throws by Curtis Sumpter made it 57-55 but Fields delivered a crushing blow, nailing a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left to make it 60-55.

"I think that was really the difference, those shots," Wright said. "We had great defensive possessions there. A couple of times, they were kind of stuck. They kicked it out and those two hit big shots. They were contested - Graves' three and Fields' three."

Fields scored 20 points and Graves added 13 and seven assists. Aaron Gray had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers (20-3, 8-1 in Big East), who set a school record with their sixth consecutive 20-win season.

After shooting just 8-of-27 (30 percent) in the first half, the Panthers warmed up after the break. They were 13-of-22 from the field in the second half, including 4-of-7 from the arc, while Villanova finished at 38 percent (19-of-50) from the game.

"We got it going with our fast break," Fields said. "It was a tribute to our defense. That's what made it happen."

Sumpter finished with 21 points and nine rebounds but was only 4-of-15 from the field. Nardi had 10 points and freshman guard Scottie Reynolds, who came in averaging 19.6 points in his last seven games, was limited to eight.

"They never stopped playing. They're a very tough team," Nardi said. "They're always doing those little things and they got us a couple of times. Then a couple of times we made dumb mistakes."

Down 17-13, Villanova went on a 13-3 run to take 26-20 lead with 5:38 left in the first half. Sumpter sparked the run with seven points and had 14 in the first half as the Wildcats opened up a 28-23 lead.

"I just wanted to come out there and give a spark off the bench to help my teammates. Just try to give them a lift," Sumpter said.

Sumpter did give Villanova a spark, coming off the bench to lead the team in scoring. Although he struggled from the field, he got to the free-throw line 15 times, making 12.

"I think every shot he took was tough," Dixon said. "His points were 21. He got 12 from the free-throw line and that was something we didn't want to do, obviously. We wanted to make him earn them."

Thanks to Fields and Graves, it was Pittsburgh who earned the hard-fought victory.