Pittsburgh Rides 'D' to 10-0

It's an old adage in seemingly every sport that has stood the test of time: "offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."

In the case of the Pittsburgh Panthers men's basketball team of 2005-2006, a case could be made they've taken it to heart.

Pitt improved to 10-0 for the third consecutive season with their impressive 58-51 road victory at South Carolina on Wednesday, but unlike in years past, the Panthers did it with defense.

And free-throw shooting.

Coach Jamie Dixon's bunch held its ninth consecutive opponent to 60 points or less, making it the first Pitt team in over 50 years to hold at least nine straight opponents to that feat.

Most impressively, Pitt made a blistering 16 of its 18 free throw attempts in the second half, finishing the evening with a mark of 81 percent (17-21), its second consective 80.0-plus percent free-throw shooting night, but more impressively shot 11 for its final 12 in crunch time.

Pitt's display from the line, led by freshmen Sam Young who was 5-6 and Carl Krauser who was 7-8, more than made up for an awful shooting display by the Panthers.

Pitt shot less than 40 percent for the game and finished 19 points below their season's scoring average.

"When you get two very good teams from two great conferences this is what they are," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said of the score, "You're in the 50's and 60's (point ranges). When you have two good teams, it's hard to get those points."

Wednesday's victory extended Dixon's undefeated December record to 26 games. In fact, the Panthers haven't lost a December contest since a Dec. 31, 2002 loss at Georgia.

"It was a very good win against a very good team," Dixon explained. "I read somewhere that they only had two non-conference losses in this building. Not many people come in here and get a win. It was a good job on our part."

In addition to the stingy defense which held South Carolina to just 42.9% shooting and 27% from beyond the arc, the Panthers also outrebounded the Gamecocks on the glass, 38-22. The rebounding advantage was instrumental in garnering Pitt's fourth straight road win dating back to last season.

"They got offensive rebounds," USC coach Dave Odom explained, "particularly in the first half. (Sam) Young did his damage with six offensive rebounds. I can remember four those that he put back. That was a big factor in the game."

Junior center Aaron Gray led the team with 13 rebounds. It was his fourth double-figure rebounding total in each of the last five games.

While defensively the Panthers excelled, critics suggest that Dixon's group must improve offensively heading into conference play. Pitt's 20 first half points were its fewest since it scored just 19 points vs. Villanova last year in the Big East Championship.

"I thought we did a good job moving the ball," Dixon explained. "We were a little impatient but we executed down the stretch."

But in the end, when you're playing defense as well as Pitt's playing, is there really a reason for worry? If there is, the Pittsburgh coach isn't showing it.

"We called a timeout when we were down eight points and said `Let's execute,' and that's what we did for the next 30 minutes."

After the 20-second timeout called by Dixon with 4 minutes to go in the first half, Pittsburgh outscored South Carolina, 48-33.

Defense.

It wins championships.


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