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Panthers looks for marquee win vs. No. 6 Syracuse

Panthers looks for marquee win vs. No. 6 Syracuse

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh is putting together a nice little bounce back season after last year's stunning freefall to the bottom of the Big East.

The Panthers (17-5) have a 25-point road win over Georgetown to their credit. They've beaten just about everybody they're supposed to beat and been competitive in their five losses, four of them to teams who were ranked at the time.

Still, there's a certain something missing from Pitt's resume: an eye-catching and NCAA tournament resume-building victory. The Panthers can close that glaring loophole on Saturday against No. 6 Syracuse (18-2, 6-1).

Pitt is a remarkable 12-1 against Top 10 teams at the Petersen Events Center since it opened a decade ago. Moving that mark to 13-1 would undoubtedly catch the attention of the various computer indexes coach Jamie Dixon loves to monitor.

``We've got to win,'' Dixon said. ``That's what we're here to do and that's what we need to do.''

It's something that used to happen with great regularity for the Panthers, particularly at home. Yet Pitt is 0-2 against ranked opponents at The Pete this season, losing to Cincinnati and Marquette by a combined 16 points. For the Panthers to emerge from the middle of a very crowded - and largely very average - Big East, Dixon knows his team needs to bring some of the menace back to what has been one of the more difficult places to play in the country.

``First and foremost we've got to win our home games,'' Dixon said. ``You want to win every one of them, we haven't. We lost two of them. We haven't taken care of business on home court. We need to win a good game.''

The Panthers nearly did on Monday, playing tight all the way in a 64-61 road loss at No. 12 Louisville. Pitt stayed within striking distance despite making an abysmal 3 of 12 free throws and allowing the Cardinals to get loose for 10 dunks.

Not exactly the mix of efficient offense and suffocating defense that's become the Panthers' trademark under Dixon. The Panthers only stayed in the game thanks to 15 offensive rebounds that turned into 25 second-chance points.

Getting those kinds of numbers against Syracuse's 2-3 zone will be difficult. The Panthers believe a little better execution getting the first shot means there won't be a big of a need for so many second ones.

``You've just got to do the right thing,'' forward Talib Zanna said. ``If we do the right thing, it might come easy for us; just attack the zone and do what Dixon wants us to do (like) taking good shots at the right time.''

That wasn't an issue early in the season for Zanna, who was dominant at times during the nonconference portion of the schedule. Opposing coaches raved about the 6-foot-9 junior's development and his aggressiveness gave freshman center Steven Adams a little room to breathe and get comfortable.

All that success, however, came at a price. Zanna hasn't been the same over the last six games. Since a 15-point effort in that 73-48 romp over the Hoyas on Jan. 8, Zanna is averaging just 5.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The soft-spoken Nigeria native says he's been pressing a little bit in recent weeks. Playing bigger, brawnier teams that have pushed him out of the lane hasn't helped either.

``Yeah, it's the Big East so the intensity is going to improve,'' Zanna said. ``I've just got to be patient and let the game come to me. I think sometimes I (try to rush) some shots, so I've just got to take my time and make plays and make my teammates better.''

Zanna grabbed 10 rebounds - including six offensive boards - against the Cardinals but shot just 2 of 9 - and didn't get to the free throw line for the first time in nearly two months. Dixon believes the issue isn't Zanna so much as the natural growing pains that come when a player is dealing with significant attention from the opposition for the first time in his career.

``He's gotten the right shots, he's taking good shots,'' Dixon said. ``We've talked about maybe rushing some of the shots, not gathering (the ball) and stepping through and being balanced. The effort is there and good things are going to happen when you're doing what he's doing.''

The Panthers will need Zanna to rediscover some of that shooting touch to help open up the zone. If he can be effective at the high post or ducking in down low, that could free up space for Pitt's 3-point shooters.

Dixon knows a little something about beating the Orange. Pitt is 9-3 against Syracuse under Dixon's watch. Getting that number to 10-3 would go a long way to giving the Panthers a boost and serving notice their rebound season might turn into something even more substantial.

``Just having a chance to go at a team that's ranked and is No. 1 in the Big East, it gives you a lot to look for,'' forward Lamar Patterson said. ``We have to come out strong and get that `W.'''

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Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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John Wall and Bradley Beal sport Elena Delle Donne’s face mask in WNBA Playoffs

John Wall and Bradley Beal sport Elena Delle Donne’s face mask in WNBA Playoffs

The newest celebrity fashion statement in Washington D.C. is sporting Elena Delle Donne face mask.

Just ask Washington Wizards John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The two Wizards superstars made it out to the Entertainment and Sports Arena supporting their fellow D.C. athletes Thursday evening. The Mystics were playing Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.

Wall attended Game 1 as well with the Wizards first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura. Several other Wizards were spotted throughout the first two games of the series. 

Since mid-July, Delle Donne has worn a face mask after suffering a nasal fracture in a game. The injury forced the 2019 WNBA MVP to miss two contests until being cleared for play. Even though she no longer is required to wear the mask, medically, Delle Donne continues to wear it for the remainder of the year.

Earlier in the regular season, Redskins running back Derrius Guice also took in a Mystics game in a Delle Donne mask.

Just next time, someone give John a hand. He’s recovering from an injury after all.

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Elena Delle Donne celebrates second WNBA MVP award by crediting others

Elena Delle Donne celebrates second WNBA MVP award by crediting others

WASHINGTON -- A lot can change in four years, and for Elena Delle Donne, that has certainly been the case. As she stood at the podium on Thursday at St. Elizabeth's Arena to accept the 2019 NBA MVP award, she reminisced on her journey since 2015, the first time she got the honors.

Back then she was 26 years old, playing for the Chicago Sky and "wide-eyed," as she put it. A blockbuster trade, several injuries and a wedding later, she is MVP again.

"I've definitely grown so much," Delle Donne said. "It's a different vibe now. I just have a different feel being so settled and happy where I am." 

Delle Donne is quick to deflect compliments and spent much of her press conference tipping her cap to others. She thanked her teammates and coaches and said she wouldn't be able to win MVP without them.

She also thanked the Mystics front office and ownership group as they were getting set for Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.

"Thank you to the organization. This is a first-class organization that really makes coming to work nice," she said. 

"You get to show up and we have a chef cooking for us. It's just a phenomenal place to be a part of. It feels like a family and I absolutely love D.C."

Delle Donne's most effusive praise was reserved for her wife, Amanda. Delle Donne went into detail about how her support makes the success she has on the court possible.

"She's the one I get to go home to and she keeps my head straight. She has to deal with all my craziness. She makes my pregame meals and basically gets everything in order for me," Delle Donne said.

Though Delle Donne talked mostly about others, the occasion was to celebrate her. Whether she is comfortable talking about herself or not, her accomplishments speak for themselves. She is now one of six players in WNBA history to win multiple MVP trophies and the first to do so with two different teams.

She got 41 of 43 first-place votes this time around after placing second in the league in scoring (19.5 ppg), fifth in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and 11th in blocks (1.29 bpg). She was the first player in WNBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Delle Donne is in the midst of a historic career. And now at 30 years old, she understands her place in the sport has context that goes way beyond trophies at stats.

"It's always incredible to know that something you've done will go down in history. It's even more inspiring to know that there are little girls looking up to me that maybe can do the same or do more. That's what I did when I was younger because I had them to look up to," she said.

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