GETTING INSIDE No. 16 Pittsburgh (14-2 overall, 4-0 in the Big East) is 124-10 at home since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, and the Panthers have secured the nation's second-longest home winning streak at 30 games.
But don't expect the Louisville Cardinals to be in awe when they come to the Pete for a Big East showdown Saturday at noon. Louisville is the only team to win twice at the Petersen Events Center.
The Cardinals beat Pitt at home in 2007 and 2008. Pitt got a measure of revenge by beating the Cardinals in the Big East tournament both seasons, but Rick Pitino does appear to have a formula to beat the Panthers.
Louisville likes to press and force turnovers, and Pitt hasn't always handled the Cardinals' pressure well. In the '07 game at the Petersen Events Center, Louisville forced 19 turnovers and won going away, 66-53.
When the two teams met last season at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Pitt, ranked No. 1 at the time, once again had problems with the press. The Panthers committed 20 turnovers in a 69-63 loss.
Sure-handed point guard Levance Fields was Pitt's main ballhandler in both of those games. Without Fields at the point this season, the Panthers have struggled more with turnovers.
It will be paramount for the Panthers to limit their turnovers if they don't want the Cardinals to steal another game at the Petersen Events Center.
PITT 67, CONNECTICUT 57: Pitt blew a 10-point second half lead, but stormed back in the final six minutes to overtake the Huskies at the XL Center for the second year in a row. Nasir Robinson, who had not made a basket all game, drove the baseline and scored with 5:48 remaining to give Pitt the lead for good after Connecticut went on a 16-5 run.
Ashton Gibbs and Bradley Wanamaker each scored 19 points for the Panthers, who won their seventh consecutive game and their third in a row on the road. In the past 11 days, the Panthers won at Syracuse, at Cincinnati and at Connecticut. They are 4-0 in Big East play.
Pitt's transition defense and rebounding were the keys to victory. Connecticut only scored 16 points in transition, and the Panthers out-rebounded the Huskies, 40-31. In the second half, the Panthers grabbed 26 rebounds to only 13 for Connecticut.
--The Panthers weren't bothered by the intense Cincinnati defense, committing only seven turnovers. It's the second fewest the team has had all season; it had six against Binghamton in nonconference play.
--Dante Taylor isn't scoring a ton of points, but the freshman was doing an excellent at not forcing the issue. He was hitting 58 percent of his shot attempts this season and is 8-for-11 through three Big East games.
ON THE SPOT: There is not much to complain about with Pitt, but Jermaine Dixon's outside shooting woes are beginning to become a concern. Dixon was 3 for 14 from the field against Connecticut, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range.
Dixon, who missed the first eight games with a foot injury, is 5-for-22 from 3-point range on the season. Opponents are going to blanket Ashton Gibbs every chance they get, and Dixon must be able to knock down the outside shot with more frequency than he is showing.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think (the offense) is just getting better. We have challenged these guys to improve, and they have taken the responsibility.'' -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, on the Panthers' improved ability to score.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Pitt wasn't expected to make the NCAA Tournament when the season began, but a 4-0 start to Big East play has earned a Top 25 ranking and increased expectations. A balanced offensive attack and a strong and deep backcourt, as well as the return of Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown to the lineup, has made this one of the better teams of the Big East through the first two weeks of conference play.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Nasir Robinson, C Gary McGhee, G Brad Wanamaker, G Ashton Gibbs, G Jermaine Dixon. Key Subs -- G-F Gilbert Brown, F Dante Taylor, G Travon Woodall, G Chase Adams.
Pittsburgh 65, DePaul 52
Pittsburgh 82, Syracuse 72
Pittsburgh 74, Cincinnati 71
Pittsburgh 67, Connecticut 57
vs. Louisville, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Georgetown, Wednesday, Jan. 20
at Seton Hall, Sunday, Jan. 24
vs. St. John's, Thursday, Jan. 28
IN FOCUS: Pitt's guards have done well handling pressure defense this season, but nobody throws more at the opposing ballhandlers than Rick Pitino. The Louisville game will be the biggest test yet for Ashton Gibbs at the forefront of the Panthers' backcourt.
--Sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs has made 18 of his past 27 attempts from 3-point range. He was 3-for-5 from behind the arc against Connecticut, including one with 3:58 remaining that gave Pitt a 55-51 lead.
--Junior guard Brad Wanamaker broke out of a slump with 19 points against Connecticut. Wanamaker had only scored in double figures once in his previous four games and was 6-for-24 from the field in that span. But he was 5-for-10 from the field against the Huskies and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.
--Junior center Gary McGhee had his best game in more than a month against Connecticut. McGhee scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Huskies after scoring only 14 points and getting 10 rebounds in his previous three games.
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