DENVER (AP) Injuries have forced Pitt to shape and reshape its roster more this season than most teams do in two or three. This latest version is looking like one that could still be playing when most of the other tournament teams are done.
Led by 23 points from Levance Fields, the fourth-seeded Panthers won their sixth straight game Thursday, blitzing 13th-seeded Oral Roberts 82-63 in the first round of the South Regional.
Pitt (27-9) is making its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance, though none of those previous teams have made it past the third round.
This team looks different, though coming off the Big East tournament championship and playing its best basketball of the season in March, for once, instead of January or February.
Next up, an intriguing matchup Saturday against fifth-seeded Michigan State, a team with a big-and-brawny reputation much like Pitt's. The Spartans defeated Temple 72-61 in an earlier game.
Sam Young, the star of Pittsburgh's run through the Big East, had 14 points. DeJuan Blair finished with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Blair's 265-pound frame made things impossible in the paint for Oral Roberts (24-9). So bad, in fact, that at one point late in the first half, the Golden Eagles were 5-for-9 from 3-point range, 1-for-16 from everywhere else the sign of a team that's simply unable or unwilling to take the abuse down low.
Robert Jarvis had 16 points, most well after the game had been decided, for the Eagles, who won the Summit League tournament to make their third straight trip to the NCAAs. Andre Hardy added 15 points and Moses Ehambe had 13.
At Oral Roberts, they live with constant reminders of the school motto, "Expect a Miracle," but there were no miracles this day, not against that team.
The Panthers ended it early with an 18-0 run that spanned 5 1/2 minutes in the first half and put them ahead 28-13. Fields was the key, hitting a 3-pointer, driving to the hoop for an easy layup, throwing in a 17-footer while getting fouled. The only hiccup came when he actually passed up an open look and threw the ball away. Coach Jamie Dixon called a timeout moments after that, and Fields came back with a 3-pointer to make it 31-15.
Fields was among the injured; he missed 12 games in the middle of the season with a fractured bone in his foot, causing one of the many roster shuffles that made things so difficult on Dixon's team.
Pitt also lost senior forward Mike Cook and redshirt freshman Austin Wallace to season-ending injuries. Combine that with an injury to Cassin Diggs and nagging injuries that limited Gilbert Brown and Ronald Ramon, and there were days when Pitt's practices, notoriously physical and rough, had to be scaled down to little more than glorified walkthroughs.
The return to health, and to everyone getting more comfortable with their new roles, has worked wonders, as their four wins in four days at the brutal Big East tournament surely attests.
This latest victory was convincing, even if the opponent wasn't as impressive.
Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said he's proud to have led a team that lost its two top players Caleb Green and Ken Tutt after last season, but knows his team has to actually win one of these to really get the boost it's looking for.
He also said beating Pitt would be a tall task, and he was right.