Jan. 1, 2012
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PITTSBURGH (AP) - The reeling 22nd-ranked Panthers fell to surging Cincinnati 66-63 on Sunday night, their third straight defeat overall and third at home in the last six weeks.
"We can't make excuses," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We need to find a way. We have the guys to get it done."
The Panthers (11-4, 0-2) turned it over 17 times and made just 5 of 19 3-point attempts against the undersized Bearcats.
Nasir Robinson led Pitt with 19 points and 10 rebounds and Ashton Gibbs added 18 but the Panthers struggled at times without injured point guard Travon Woodall, who sat out with lingering groin and abdominal injuries.
"We've just been missing shots and not taking advantage of opportunities," Gibbs said. "And turnovers, especially today. We had too many turnovers and they capitalized on them. We made too many mistakes and they just took advantage of it."
Cincinnati (11-3. 1-0) overcame a distinct size advantage to win their sixth straight despite missing forward Yancy Gates, sitting out a sixth and final game for his role in a bench-clearing brawl against Xavier on Dec. 10.
The Bearcats hardly needed him, frustrating Pitt with their quickness and clamping down defensively in the final seconds.
JaQuon Parker scored a career-high 21 points and Sean Kilpatrick added 19 as Cincinnati won in Pittsburgh for the first time in 33 years.
"All this was (done) with relentless effort by the guys," Cronin said. "You watch those guys play you think `How are they doing it, they're so small?"'
The answer? A heavy dose of fullcourt pressure and a dash of fearlessness.
The Bearcats never panicked after getting down early and played like it expected to win while the Panthers again struggled in a tight game.
"We don't look up (at the scoreboard), we just shoot the next open shot and stay on the attack," Cronin said.
The Bearcats have eagerly embraced their new frenetic style, pushing the pace at every opportunity and using their quick hands to disrupt the opponent's offense.
"Playing four guards is actually kind of easier for the press, because everyone on our team is really fast and really athletic," Kilpatrick said. "We use that to our advantage."
Cincinnati didn't back down against the suddenly vulnerable Panthers, never panicking after getting down by eight points early. Instead they kept shooting, kept getting their hands in passing lanes and kept frustrating Pitt in the process.
A 3-pointer by Dion Dixon gave Cincinnati a 66-59 lead with 3 minutes to go and Cincinnati dug in defensively to overcome a couple of costly missed free throws.
Pitt drew within three on two free throws by John Johnson with 40 seconds to play but couldn't take advantage after Parker and Kilpatrick clanked the front end of two 1-and-1s.
Johnson was called for an offensive foul to end one possession. Gibbs missed a 3-pointer on Pitt's next trip but the Panthers got the rebound and called time out with 2.4 seconds remaining. Lamar Patterson's 3-pointer from the top of the key wasn't close and the Bearcats poured off the bench in celebration.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction. Pitt has struggled searching for an identity. The team's normally tenacious defense has only been so-so Woodall's absence has forced Gibbs to do the majority of the ballhandling, with mixed results.
How bad are things going for the Panthers? They're suddenly beatable at home.
Pitt started the season winning 55 of its last 57 home games but has lost at the Pete three times in the last six weeks. Long Beach State raced by Pitt on Nov. 16, then Wagner stunned the Panthers two days before Christmas.
Missing Woodall hasn't helped. The junior played for the first time in nearly a month in a 72-59 loss to Notre Dame last week but didn't even dress against the Bearcats because of continued soreness. The Panthers could certainly use him.
Gibbs made 7 of 15 shots but couldn't find the range when the Panthers needed it most.
"We tried to eliminate him beating us," Cronin said. "We didn't all the way ... but down the stretch we made it really, really hard on him."