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February 18, 2011QUEENS, N.Y. - Winners of five of their last six games, 8-5 in BIG EAST play for the first time since 2000-01 and sharing a piece of fourth place in the conference standings, head coach Steve Lavin and the St. John's men's basketball team (16-9, 8-5 BIG EAST) takes on the league's first-place squad, No. 4/4 Pitt (24-2, 12-1 BIG EAST) on Saturday at noon at Madison Square Garden.
St. John's, which owns a 6-1 record in games at "The World's Most Famous Arena" in 2010-11, including a 4-1 record against ranked opposition and three Top 10 victories at The Garden, takes on the Panthers.
• Scouting Pitt
• No. 4/4 Pittsburgh sits atop the BIG EAST standings and is 24-2 on the season, 12-1 in conference play and 6-0 on the road. The Panthers are averaging 76.2 points per game while limiting opponents to just 61.3 points. Good shot selection has been key for Pittsburgh, which is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from 3-point range. Pitt is coming off a 67-55 home win over USF on Wednesday.
• The Panthers' two losses were both against ranked opponents. On Dec. 11, Pittsburgh fell to then-No. 11/13 Tennessee in the SEC/BIG EAST Invitational in Pittsburgh. The Panthers' second loss was to then-No. 15/14 Notre Dame on Jan. 24 when the Fighting Irish took a 56-51 win at Petersen Events Center. A second-half defensive lapse proved costly for the Panthers as ND outscored them 33-23 after halftime, shooting 61.1 percent (11-of-18) from the field and 50 percent (4-of-8) from 3-point range.
• Pittsburgh's offense centers on the play of junior guard Ashton Gibbs, who has emerged as one of the top 3-point shooters in the country. Gibbs, who sat out the previous three games due to an ankle injury, leads the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game. He is shooting 43.6 percent (120-of-275) from the field and his 3-point shooting percentage (46.3 percent, 74-of-160) is actually better than his 2-point shooting percentage (40 percent, 46-of-115). Gibbs is also ranks among the best in the nation at the free throw line, converting 89.7 percent of his shots. Senior point guard Brad Wanamaker is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.6 points per game. Wanamaker's 5.0 assists per game ranks sixth in the BIG EAST. Senior forward Gilbert Brown is also a strong 3-point shooter, averaging 11.1 points per game and shooting 39.5 percent (32-of-81) from beyond the arc. Senior center Gary McGhee is Pitt's top post option. McGhee, averaging 7.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest.
• St. John's senior class is 0-4 against Pittsburgh. D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy have had the most success against the Panthers. Over four games against Pitt, Kennedy has averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds against the Panthers. His best game was an 18-point performance on Jan. 11, 2009. Hardy averaged 13.5 points against Pitt in two games last season, including a 15-point performance on Feb. 27, 2010 at MSG.
• Pittsburgh head coach Jaime Dixon is in his eighth season leading the Panthers. He has compiled a (211-56) overall record and a (94-36) BIG EAST record. Dixon is 7-2 against St. John's and 2-2 on the Red Storm's home court. A three-time National Coach of the Year, Dixon led Pitt to the NCAA Tournament in each of his previous seven years at head coach, including three trips (2004, 2007 and 2009) to the Sweet Sixteen. He directed the Panthers to 2003-04 BIG EAST regular season title and the 2008 BIG EAST Championship title.
• Saturday's game marks the 55th meeting all-time between St. John's and Pittsburgh. St. John's holds a 33-21 advantage in the series, including a 27-17 edge in BIG EAST play. The Panthers have won the last five meetings. St. John's last defeated Pitt on Jan. 21, 2006, when the Red Storm took a 55-50 win at Madison Square Garden. Last season the Panthers defeated STJ twice. On Jan. 28, 2010, Pitt topped St. John's, 63-53, at Petersen Events Center. Justin Burrell scored a team-high 14 points in that game. The Panthers took a 71-64 victory at MSG on Feb. 27, 2010. Hardy led STJ with 15 points.