March 2, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - While No. 4 Pittsburgh has work to do to accomplish all of its goals, winning the Big East regular-season championship is an impressive start.
Nasir Robinson scored 18 points and Ashton Gibbs added 16 Wednesday night as the Panthers overcame a slow start to clinch at least a share of the league title with a 66-50 victory over struggling South Florida.
"It's the toughest conference in the country, and we're the champs of it. That's a pretty good accomplishment," coach Jamie Dixon said.
"It's a conference that's going to have 11 NCAA bids, we believe. Nobody has been champion of a conference with 11 NCAA bids," Dixon added. "It's a first-time thing. ... That puts it in perspective right there. You've got to beat a lot of good people, and no one's had to beat as many good people as we've had to in any conference before."
The Panthers (26-4, 14-3) bounced back from an overtime loss at Louisville to set a school record with their seventh conference road win. They can claim the regular-season crown outright by beating No. 19 Villanova at home Saturday, or if second-place Notre Dame loses its finale at Connecticut.
South Florida (9-21, 3-14) led 27-24 at halftime, limiting Gibbs and Pitt's second-leading scorer, Brad Wanamaker, to just three points apiece.
The Bulls saw their chances for an upset fade in the opening minutes of the second half when Robinson and Gary McGhee sparked a 25-7 run that broke the game open.
"We came out fighting and battling. I wish we could have bottled that for 40 minutes," USF coach Stan Heath said. "Once they got the momentum going, we just didn't seem to be able to slow them down."
Besides remaining on course to earn the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament, Dixon set a NCAA Division I record for most victories in the first eight seasons of a career with 214 - one more than Everett Case had at North Carolina State and Roy Williams had at Kansas in their first eight years.
Robinson made six of eight shots and had eight points during the game-turning burst that began with his layup in the closing seconds of the first half. McGhee didn't take a shot before halftime, but had a rebound dunk and two layups during the surge that Gibbs finished with three 3-pointers that put Pitt up 49-34.
Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous scored 15 points each for USF, which has lost 16 of 19. Famous had 12 rebounds, but the frontcourt tandem got little help offensively, especially while the Bulls were being outscored 42-23 in the second half.
USF snapped a six-game losing streak at DePaul last Saturday, with Gilchrist scoring a career-high 32 points and Famous adding 15. They combined for 19 points in the opening half against Pitt, which made it much more difficult for them to get easy shots after the break.
"They came out a different team," the 6-foot-11 Famous said. "They came out more aggressive and physical, and I think that bothered us."
Pitt shot just 34.8 percent in the first half, with Gibbs and Wanamaker going 1 for 7 and Gilbert Brown spending the last 6 minutes on the bench after picking up his second foul.
Brown made his first five shots to join Robinson and Gibbs in double figures with 10 points. Robinson led Pitt with 10 rebounds.