Gibbs, No. 4 Pitt handle Cincinnati
Ashton Gibbs made sure Pitt's recent offensive woes ended as quickly as one of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
The junior guard hit his first six shots, with four 3-pointers in the opening 13 minutes, and lifted No. 4 Pitt to a 71-59 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday night in a matchup of two short-handed teams.
Gibbs finished with a career high-tying 25 points, including 5 of 5 from behind the arc, as Pitt (21-2, 9-1) opened the second half of the Big East schedule by maintaining its two-game lead over Notre Dame, Villanova and Louisville.
"Gibbs is one of the best players in the country," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "He can break your back. He's a great player."
Pitt, playing without top reserves Dante Taylor (knee) and Lamar Patterson (suspended), tuned up for Monday's showdown at West Virginia by becoming only the third team this season to score 70 points on defensive-minded Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5).
Cincinnati was playing without second-leading scorer and top rebounder Yancy Gates, who didn't travel to Pittsburgh after being suspended for violating team rules.
"I'm not concerned (about Gates)," Cronin said. "I'm worried about the guys we have here."
Gibbs, who was 7 of 11 from the field, also shined on the defensive end, helping to hold Cincinnati's leading scorer, guard Dion Dixon, scoreless on 0 for 4 shooting.
Gibbs, the hero of Pitt's 65-62 victory at Rutgers last Saturday with 24 points, is 14 for 25 from the field and 9 of 14 from 3-point range in the past two games. This follows a four-game slump in which he missed 34 of 49 shots.
"I'm trying to move without the ball as much as I can," Gibbs said. "We really executed tonight."
Pitt needed the offensive resurgence after having its worst two shooting games of the season against Rutgers and Notre Dame.
"We just didn't think our offense was as good the last couple of games," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We got back to what we do. That was great to see."
The Panthers, led by Gibbs, shot 54 percent from the field in the first half (13 for 24) and finished at 47 percent.
The effort came against a Cincinnati team that was allowing 56.9 points per game, sixth-best in the nation.
"We really came together over this week of practice and looked at the adjustments that needed to be made," said Pitt's Gilbert Brown, who had 11 points, three assists and two steals. "We really put it to work."
Gibbs sank a deep 3 from the right wing 90 seconds into the game and never slowed down. He made three 3-pointers in the opening 5:20, as Pitt built an early 10-point lead and never trailed. The Panthers led, 40-23, at halftime.
Gibbs scored 18 points in the first half to help Pitt win a game in which it was outrebounded (40-37) and had more turnovers (18) than assists (15).
Cincinnati, which has lost five of its past eight games, had 23 offensive rebounds, the most allowed by Pitt in a game in at least 10 years.
"It's disappointing, but when you hold them to 33 percent, there's going to be a lot of attempts and probably a few more rebounds to get," Dixon said. "But they got far too many when you look at that number."
Larry Davis scored 13 points, and Anthony McClain, making only his fifth career start, added 10 for Cincinnati, which shot 33.3 percent from the field (21 of 63) and 2 of 13 from behind the arc.
Pitt led, 59-37, with seven minutes to play, but Cincinnati went on a 14-2 run to cut the Panthers' lead to 61-51 with 2:30 remaining. The Bearcats never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Gibbs was the difference in the first half. At one point, he was 6 for 6 from the field, and the rest of the team was a combined 3 for 12.
"He's got the mental game," Cronin said. "He knows what he's good at. He's turned himself into a great, great player. I saw him in high school, and he didn't shoot the ball that way. There is no question why he is who he is — hours of practice."