WASHINGTON - For once in the NCAA Tournament, Pittsburgh finally got a gift from the heavens.
Then, in typical Panthers' fashion when it comes to the big dance, they lost anyway.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon was adamant in his post-game press conference that the referees in Saturday's 71-70 loss to Butler in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the Verizon Center did not cost Pitt the game, and he was right.
Both Shelvin Mack's foul on Gilbert Brown and Nasir Robinson's foul on Matt Howard in the final 2 seconds of the game were indeed fouls.
Robinson deserves plenty of the blame, but if Brown had made the second free throw, it's likely Butler never even gets a shot off and Pittsburgh advances to the next round.
The final set of plays were summed up perfectly by a suddenly-off-the-hook Mack.
"I made probably the worst foul in Butler history," Mack said. "But Pittsburgh made up for it."
Don't they always?
As Brown prepared to shoot the biggest free throws of his life to possibly end Butler's season, Mack was relaxed.
He calmly walked to the free-throw line and began a conversation with Brown.
"I asked him where he was from," Mack said. "I just talked to him a bit, and he responded back. There was no trash talking or anything like that. I told him I was from Lexington and I had a 3.0 GPA, just stuff like that."
Perhaps it is the fact Butler went to the NCAA title game last year, maybe it was the huge weight on Brown's shoulder for the several failed attempts of the Pitt seniors at finally cracking the Final Four or maybe it's just that one team expected to win in a final-second situation and one, whether they admit it or not, didn't.
"I don't know what they were thinking, but they grabbed Matt [Howard] and fouled him," Butler's Andrew Smith said. "Then Matt, of course, made the free throw like he always does."
Noticing a trend? Butler and Pittsburgh play similar aggressive, physical styles. But one knows how to win in the final second and the other doesn't.
The Bulldogs were coming off a last-second win over Old Dominion in the first round and have rebounded from a midseason slump that made them a No. 8 seed in this tournament.
"Everything could have been avoided," Brown said. "If I make a free throw, Nasir doesn't commit a foul. That's just the way it was."
And that's the way it's been for Brown, Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee in each of their seasons at Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, for Butler, it turned out just the way it usually does, and that's not a coincidence.
When a player from one team can casually talk about his GPA with less than 2 seconds on the clock, and another is showing his complete inexperience with winning games in the final seconds, you have a problem with the culture of a team.
"I wasn't thinking at all," Robinson said. "I was trying to make a play. It was a dumb play, and I wasn't thinking at all."
Robinson will have plenty of time to think now that it's the offseason, and if he, Ashton Gibbs and the other returning Pitt players want to finally change the culture at Pitt, maybe they might want to investigate the reasons the Panthers and Bulldogs aren't so much alike after all.
Michael Boytim can be reached at email@example.com or 946-7521