Pittsburgh Coach Ben Howland would be more upset at the Panthers missing an opportunity to become No. 1 if yesterday's loss to Georgia were in April instead of December.

The Panthers wasted a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, losing to the Bulldogs, 79-67, as Ezra Williams scored 20 points in Athens, Ga.

Second-ranked Pittsburgh (9-1) never has led the Associated Press poll. The 1987-88 team also reached No. 2, the only other time the Panthers have been ranked that high. No. 1 Alabama lost at Utah on Monday night, opening the way for Pitt to move up.

"I don't think it was a big deal," Howland said. "The good thing about college basketball is that there's going to be a national champion that's decided in the NCAA tournament. It's not like football."

Jarvis Hayes added 18 points for the Bulldogs (8-3), who won their seventh straight. It is the second straight season they have beaten a No. 2 team; they won, 84-79, at Florida in January.

Coach Jim Harrick hardly took time to savor the victory, quickly turning his attention to the next two games on the schedule -- home against No. 21 Louisiana State and at No. 12 Florida.

"The games coming up are more important for us," Harrick said. "LSU and Florida and the 14 coming up after that."

Ontario Lett and Carl Krauser scored 14 points apiece for Pittsburgh, but Brandin Knight never got going. The 6-foot guard was 4 of 17, including 2 of 10 on three-pointers, and finished with 10 points.

Teammate Julius Page also struggled, missing all six of his shots and scoring two points. He had been averaging 13.6 points.

Knight hurt his ankle in the first half when he landed on the foot of teammate Jaron Brown. He returned after a brief rest.

"I just missed some open shots," Knight said. "You're going to have days like that; they just weren't falling."

The Panthers got within six points on Knight's layup with 7 minutes 24 seconds to go, but Georgia responded with a quick six-point surge. The run was highlighted by a give-and-go between Rashad Wright and Chris Daniels, with Daniels grabbing the ball out of the air and gently putting it in.

"The intensity of the play had an NCAA tournament atmosphere to it," Harrick said.

The Panthers won their first nine games by an average of 26.6 points, taking advantage of a schedule ranked 274th toughest in the country. They've got one more nonconference game -- Saturday against Robert Morris -- before opening the Big East schedule at home against No. 6 Notre Dame.

"They didn't know what to expect," Wright said. "It was a test for them. We came out and played hard."

The Bulldogs have righted themselves after a 1-3 start, mainly because of the return of center Steve Thomas. He was academically ineligible for the first seven games.

"Once we got our main man back in the middle, we haven't lost a game," Hayes said. "We expected to win this game."

* INDIANA 76, BALL STATE 62: Bracey Wright made five three-pointers and tied a career high with 31 points as the 17th-ranked Hoosiers won on the road without Coach Mike Davis, who sat out because of suspension.

Indiana (9-2) broke a two-game losing streak despite playing without Davis, who served a one-game suspension for his outburst during a loss to Kentucky on Dec. 21 when he ran onto the court to argue with an official. Assistant coach John Treloar filled in.

The Cardinals (5-5) were led by Cameron Echols, who scored 24 points. It was not enough to prevent Indiana from winning its 13th straight game in the series.

After the Cardinals grabbed a 40-39 lead on a 10-foot runner by Chris Williams early in the second half, Wright made a 10-footer and a breakaway dunk to key a 9-0 surge.

* XAVIER 75, CREIGHTON 73: In Cincinnati, David West scored a season-high 28 points, including a tiebreaking bank shot with four seconds left, as the No. 19 Musketeers defeated the 15th-ranked Bluejays, ending their best run in 60 years.

Xavier (9-2) had to go deep into its bench because of foul troubles and injury. Starting guard Lionel Chalmers suffered a severe foot injury in the first half, forcing Keith Jackson to get into the game and carry the load.

Jackson was 7 of 7 for a career-high 17 points, and made the inbound pass to West for the leaning bank shot that put Xavier ahead. Tyler McKinney's off-balance three-point shot went high off the backboard at the buzzer, as Creighton (10-1) lost for the first time.

The Bluejays had won 10 in a row for only the fifth time in school history and the first since the 1942-43 season.

West, a preseason all-American, was double- and triple-teamed inside, but found enough openings to make 10 of 21 shots, including the most important one.

Kyle Korver led Creighton with a career-high 32 points and made four consecutive three-pointers that pulled the Bluejays even after they trailed by 10 points. Korver's eight three-pointers tied a school record.

It was tied at 35 at the end of a first half that featured nine ties and six lead changes. Xavier had the biggest lead of the half at 22-16.

Jackson started the second half, hit a jumper during an opening 8-2 surge and dove over the media table saving a loose ball, getting tangled up in folding chairs on the floor while the play went on. Creighton got the ball, but couldn't score despite its 5-on-4 advantage.

Will Caudle's putback put Xavier up 65-55 with 4:09 to go, but Korver's long-range shooting brought Creighton back.

* ST. JOSEPH'S 79, GONZAGA 78: Jameer Nelson scored a career-high 34 points, including the game-winner with eight seconds remaining in overtime, as the Hawks snapped the Bulldogs' 29-game home winning streak.

Held to just 10 points in the first half, Nelson opened the second half with four points in the first minute of play. The junior all-Atlantic-10 Conference guard missed a three-point shot at the end of regulation.

The Hawks (8-1) bounced back from their first loss -- Saturday in Stockton, Calif., against Pacific.

Gonzaga ended Saint Joseph's 14-game home winning streak in Philadelphia one year ago -- also on New Year's Eve.

Cory Violette scored 19 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. The junior from Boise, Idaho, tied the game with 37 seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra period.

* VILLANOVA 70, TEMPLE 62: Freshman guard Allan Ray scored 16 points and freshman forward Curtis Sumpter added 10 points, all in the second half, as the Wildcats won at home.

Gary Buchanan also scored 10 points for Villanova (7-4). Maurice Collins and Brian Polk each scored 18 points for the Owls (2-7).

Georgia's Damien Wilkins, left, scrabbles with Pitt's Donotas Zavackas for ball during Bulldogs' 79-67 upset over the second-ranked Panthers.