If trying to forget its worst defeat in eight years wasn't tough enough, Pittsburgh must again look to overcome the loss of one of its top players due to injury.
The 13th-ranked Panthers play for the first time without point guard Levance Fields on Wednesday night when they host Lafayette in their final tune-up before Big East play begins.Pittsburgh (11-1) was riding high after a 65-64 overtime win over then-No. 6 Duke 65-64 on Dec. 20. The win helped vault the Panthers to the No. 6 spot in the AP poll and even overshadowed losing starting swingman Mike Cook for the season with a knee injury in that contest.Saturday, the prospect of a special season might have come crashing down for Pitt, which lost 80-55 at Dayton and Fields for at least eight weeks with a broken left foot.That defeat was the Panthers' worst since losing 76-50 to then-No. 18 Tennessee on Dec. 4, 1999, but losing Fields and Cook in consecutive games could prove devastating for the Panthers chances at winning the Big East and making a run in the NCAA tournament.After Wednesday, they open their Big East slate at No. 17 Villanova on Sunday."I'd say were back down to earth," said senior guard Keith Benjamin, who is likely to replace Fields. "I feel like we're a very humble team, so we're not going to dwell on it."While losing Cook, who averaged 10.4 points, was tough, losing the junior Fields is something the Panthers likely cannot afford. He averages 11.9 points, a team-leading 5.4 assists and is the team's emotional leader.Pitt is left with nine scholarship players -- three of which are guards."We've got confidence in the guys we're putting out there," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.Dixon hopes junior forward Sam Young and 6-foot-7 freshman DeJuan Blair can continue their strong play and carry the Panthers through the conference schedule.Young, who averages a team-leading 17.5 points with 7.3 rebounds, had 15 points Saturday for Pitt, which shot a season-low 29.7 percent and was 3-for-25 from 3-point range.Blair, who averages 11.8 points and 9.8 rebounds, was held to nine and six, respectively, while dealing with foul trouble."Our offense I wouldn't say was very good, let's put it that way," Dixon said. "We could have played better on the offensive."The Panthers certainly can't afford another poor defensive effort like the one they put forth versus Dayton. Pitt yielded almost 20 points more than the 60.8 per game it allows and let the Flyers shoot 52.0 percent -- the most by an opponent in 2007-08.Pitt hopes to regroup as it faces Lafayette (8-4) for the first time since beating the Leopards 67-66 at home on Dec. 22, 1997. The Panthers lead 15-6 in the all-time series.Lafayette looks to bounce back from an 88-76 loss at Robert Morris on Sunday. Andrew Brown scored 21 points for the Leopards, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.The 5-11 Brown, who shoots 48.9 percent from 3-point range, is averaging 18.3 points overall and 25.0 in his last three contests for Lafayette.The Leopards, who are playing their sixth game of an eight-game road stretch, are 3-36 versus ranked teams and haven't beat a Top 25 squad since a 77-70 win over then-No. 16 Rutgers on Dec. 2, 1978.