The fifth-annual College Basketball Invitational has come down to the rubber match, as the Washington Cougars and the Pittsburgh Panthers square off in Game Three tonight at the Petersen Events Center.
If Washington State wins, it would become the third Pac-12 Conference team to take home the CBI title, following in the footsteps of Oregon State (2009) and Oregon (2011). If Pittsburgh is victorious, it will be the first-ever champion from the Big East.
After Washington State took a 1-0 advantage on Monday on its home floor, the series shifted to the Steel City on Wednesday, where Pittsburgh was able to stay alive behind a 57-53 triumph.
The Panthers appeared to have full control of the game early on, shooting 50 percent from the field in the opening stanza to get out to a comfortable 29-20 lead at halftime.
Pitt continued to play well early in the second half, and after a Talib Zanna dunk with 10:13 left in the game extended its lead to 42-32, it seemed well on its way to an easy victory. But the Cougars would not go down without a fight, as they ripped off eight consecutive points to cut the deficit to just two, 42-40, with 7:10 remaining. The Panthers would cling to the lead until a pair of Reggie Moore free-throws for WSU tied the game at 49-49 at the 1:41 mark. Despite their valiant effort however, the Cougars would never take the lead, as a Lamar Patterson jumper for Pittsburgh on the next possession gave it the advantage for good.
After Washington State shot an impressive 51.2 percent from the field in Game One, it took a step backwards in Wednesday's bout, connecting on just 43.6 percent of its field goal attempts, including 4-of-13 from three-point range, for 53 points, its worst offensive performance of the tournament. The lone Cougar to reach double figures was Reggie Moore with 18 points, and although he struggled from the field (5-of-13), he was able to make up for it with a solid showing at the foul line (8-of-10). Abe Lodwick and DaVonte Lacy tallied nine points a piece for the Cougars, who were again without star player Brock Motum (Pac-12-best 18.0 ppg). The junior forward suffered an ankle injury in last week's semifinal win over Oregon State, and while WSU was able to overcome his absence in Game One, the team really missed his offensive prowess two nights later. With Motum's status up in the air for tonight's decisive game, the Cougars will again need to rely on Moore (10.0 ppg, 5.2 apg), Lacy (8.4 ppg), and Lodwick (7.1 ppg) for increased production.
Pittsburgh nearly blew a double-digit, second-half lead in Game Two after going just 7-of-22 from the field over the final 20 minutes, but it was able to hold on thanks to an impressive showing at the foul line, shooting 13-of-16 from the stripe after the break to stave off the pesky Cougars. Zanna was the spark plug off the bench for the Panthers, going 4-of-4 from the field and 6-of-8 from the line for a team-best 14 points, while also grabbing eight rebounds. Lamar Patterson continued his impressive play in the tournament with 12 points and five assists, while Nasir Robinson finished with 10 points. Much like Washington State, Pitt was also without its leading scorer on the season in Ashton Gibbs (14.6 ppg), who missed his first game of the year with an ankle injury, although he has been less-than-effective during the CBI, averaging just 7.3 ppg in his four games played. Point guard Tray Woodall is the Panthers' answer to WSU's Moore, netting 11.5 ppg and dishing out a fantastic 6.1 apg on the campaign. Robinson (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Patterson (9.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg) round out the pieces to Pitt's puzzle.