Tyrell Biggs, left, shoots in front of South Florida's Mobolaji Ajayi. (AP)
Jan. 14, 2009
PITTSBURGH (AP)--Top-ranked Pittsburgh knew it would be in for a game soon in the Big East. The Panthers probably didn't guess it would be this one.
Tyrell Biggs was Pitt's leading scorer the first time in his career with 16 points, and the Panthers struggled early for the second time in as many games since reaching No. 1 before pulling away to beat South Florida 75-62 on Wednesday night.
Sam Young scored 14 points, DeJuan Blair had 13 points and 18 rebounds and Levance Fields had 11 points as Pittsburgh (16-0, 4-0) moved to the third-best start in school history. The only better ones were the 21-0 record of the 1927-28 team and the 18-0 of Jamie Dixon's 2003-04 team, his first season at the school.
Blair, the nation's leading offensive rebounder, has 50 rebounds in his last three games--an average of more than 16 per game.
Dominique Jones and Augustus Gilchrist scored 22 points each and Chris Howard had 13 for South Florida (6-10, 1-3), which repeatedly had trouble getting more than one shot on any possession because of Blair while being outrebounded 37-23.
Pitt plays its next five games against teams that are or recently were nationally ranked, starting Saturday at No. 20 Louisville. The Panthers didn't figure to have much trouble against the Bulls, who are 8-46 in Big East play, 2-25 on the road.
But the Bulls hit a succession of off-balance and tough-angle shots to rally from deficits of 7-0, 16-7 and 30-22 to keep the game close, and trailed only 41-39 early in the second half--causing a few nervous fans in the sellout crowd of 12,508 to wonder when the real Panthers would show up.
That finally happened when Pitt went on a 15-4 run to stretch a 47-44 lead into a more comfortable 62-48 advantage with 8:51 remaining. The Panthers did much the same thing against St. John's on Sunday, leading 41-36 at halftime before making it a rout in the second half and winning 90-67.
Fields hit a 3-pointer with 15:18 remaining to make it 50-44 and Biggs scored ahead of Brad Wanamaker's 3-pointer that gave Pitt its first double-digit lead at 55-44. Young's 3 pushed it to 60-47. Biggs' career high was 19 points last season, but he wasn't the leading scorer in that game.
The Bulls, playing a No. 1 team for the third time in school history, might have gotten a burst of confidence from an 80-58 win at DePaul on Saturday--only its second Big East road win.
South Florida's other games against No. 1 teams were a 75-39 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 12, 1981, and an 89-72 loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 29, 2000. The Bulls have lost 24 consecutive road games against ranked teams.
The start of the game was delayed 20 minutes by a rush-hour snowstorm that clogged city streets and caused South Florida's bus and the game officials to arrive late. Some spectators didn't arrive until close to halftime, and there were unaccustomed blocks of empty seats in the Petersen Events Center--where Pitt is 107-10--until they did.
Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes, a former Ohio State player, sat in the student section rather than a luxury box and wore an "Oakland Zoo" T-shirt, like the 1,500 students who ring the courtside section for each game.