Pitt 67, UConn 57

If this is a rebuilding year for the Pitt men's basketball team, then the Panthers certainly have put together a solid foundation.

No. 16 Pittsburgh won its seventh straight game and fourth Big East contest in four tries this season with an 67-57 win against No. 15 Connecticut Wednesday night at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.

The Panthers improved to 14-2 overall, while UConn is 11-5.

"I'm very proud of our guys,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Obviously, everybody knows, I don't have to sit here and tell you how tough this place is to play (in), and what their record is over the years, and how good they are, and how good a program, and everything that goes with it.

"That needed to be said to recognize how important this game was for us. ... I know other people may look at us differently and where we were picked, but I believe any team that commits to one another and commits to playing together can be as good as they want to be.''

Pitt roared to an 18-8 lead, as consecutive 3-pointers by Gilbert Brown and Ashton Gibbs keyed a 14-3 run. After UConn got back in the game a bit, the Panthers hung tough and led 32-29 at halftime despite shooting poorly and getting outrebounded 18-14 in the first half. Pitt turned that around in the second half and ended with a 40-31 advantage on the boards.

"We came in at halftime, and I told them we got beat on the boards by four,'' Dixon said. "We had to turn that around. We out-rebounded them by 13 in second half, and clearly that was the difference. We just battled. We seemed to get every loose ball in the second half.''

Pitt pulled away to a nine-point lead with less than 15 minutes remaining, but UConn scored 11 straight points and eventually took a 49-48 lead on a Jerome Dyson layup with 9:40 left. That was the Huskies first lead since a 5-4 edge.

That's when Gibbs, who along with Bradley Wanamaker led Pitt with 19 points each, hit a 3-pointer and scored on a layup after a UConn turnover gave the Panthers a 57-51 lead. Initially, it appeared that Pitt might not be able to seal the win, as Jermaine Dixon and Gibbs missed the front end of one-and-one situations at the free-throw line.

"Congratulations to Pittsburgh,'' UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "We allowed them to, and they did, control the game. Early, they looked like they were going to score an awful lot of points. They basically controlled the tempo of the game. I felt good at halftime, that we were going to come back. We just have a problem with 40 and 35 -- 40 full minutes and 35-second shot clocks.

"We got beat on the backboards, miserably, in the second half. And we don't really have an excuse for it. I thought they were tough (and) physical. They weren't overwhelmingly big, but they created mismatches for us, obviously, by spacing the floor. Then, if you allow them to play their game and get second-chances, and we don't make any foul shots (6-13) it makes life very difficult.''

But Pitt improved from the line down the stretch with a 6-for-6 performance, played solid defense and kept the Huskies at bay with the game on the line. The Panthers made 17 of 20 free throws overall to steadily pull away at the end. Wanamaker made 9 of 10 shots from the line to help seal the deal for Pitt.

"That was very important ... not giving them a chance to come down and get a big shot,'' Wanamaker said. "We out-toughed them in the second half and we came out with the win.''

Brown finished with 11 points for Pitt, while Gary McGhee and Jermaine Dixon tallied nine and seven rebounds, respectively. Stanley Robinson had 19 points to lead UConn, while Dyson added 14 points and Kemba Walker 10. The Huskies were 6-for-13 from the foul line.

"We just wanted to stay mellow, stay calm,'' Gibbs said about the waning minutes. "They're going to have great runs. They're going to have big runs, especially at their place. (But) everybody in that locker room is confident in each other. We knew what we had coming into this season.''

And now the rest of the country knows as well with three straight high-profile road wins against Syracuse, Cincinnati and UConn.

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