PITTSBURGH - During the course of the postseason - which Pitt hopes lasts the next four weeks - the Panthers no doubt will find themselves in a moment like the one they faced Saturday.
After taking a 52-38 lead against Connecticut midway through the second half and threatening to blow the roof off the deafening Peterson Events Center, Pitt saw its lead dwindle to a mere 52-50 following UConn's 12-0 run.
It was then that the Panthers showed they have the potential to not only win the Big East Tournament and not only get to the Final Four but win the school's first NCAA basketball championship.
They are that good.
Pitt responded to UConn's flurry with a decisive 11-3 run that decked the nation's No. 1 team, 70-60, for the second time in three weeks and pretty well solidified that the Panthers (28-3) will be a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
"The fact that we didn't have enough gas or Pitt wouldn't let us tells me a lot about Pitt," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "They're as good as any team in the country."
The Panthers did it largely with gutty point guard Levance Fields, who played through tailbone and groin injuries to log 12 assists and great floor work in 37 minutes, and fellow senior Sam Young, whose game-high 31 points included a dunk off a Fields' lob that let some air out of the Huskies.
"Young was brilliant, absolutely special," Calhoun said before predicting a long NBA career for the explosive forward.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon believes both Fields and Young are somehow "underappreciated."
That may be from all the attention DeJuan Blair commands, but on this day, Blair's numbers (8 points and 8 rebounds due in part to foul trouble) were rather pedestrian and helped Pitt survive on a grand stage without Blair better than it has in the past.
"I think this might be the best offensive team Pitt's had since Charles Smith and Jerome Lane," Calhoun said. "As a friend, I told Jamie they're more fun to watch now."
In addition to its three-headed nucleus, Pitt got a strong game off the bench by sophomore guard Brad Wanamaker, whose 24 minutes resulted in 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and a ton of energy.
"He's carrying us with his attitude and development," Dixon said.
The Panthers now head to the Big East Tournament meatgrinder, where they'll play Thursday and possibly meet UConn again in the semifinals Friday.
Amazingly, they've been to the conference finals seven times in the last eight years, but that is not and can't be the main goal now.
"Today was a great day for our seniors and the University of Pittsburgh," Dixon said. "That said, we've got work to do."
How well they do that work will ultimate define the 2008-09 Panthers. They've had trouble getting past the Sweet 16 in the past, but those teams didn't have all of this year's pieces.
"We've put ourselves," Blair said, "in a good situation."
One they could ride all the way to Detroit.
Neil Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.