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No. 23 Pitt seeks payback at Cincinnati

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick drives against Rutgers forward Austin Johnson on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP)

Any college basketball team that wants to make an impact at tournament time needs to make steady, significant improvement.

Pitt (19-5, 7-4) appears to be approaching that level of achievement, winning seven of nine games since an 0-2 start to the Big East season.

But a tough test surfaces Saturday when the No. 23 Panthers travel to Cincinnati for a rematch of the conference opener, a 70-61 win by the Bearcats at Petersen Events Center on Dec. 31.

That game bothers coach Jamie Dixon for many reasons, including the blown eight-point halftime lead and Cincinnati's 37-32 rebounding edge. The 17th-ranked Bearcats (18-5, 6-4) are one of only five opponents to outrebound Pitt this season.

Lesson learned, junior forward J.J. Moore said.

“We know how they play now,” said Moore, who didn't score in the first meeting but has recovered to average 8.6 points per game, fourth-best on the team. “We are going to compete harder than we did. When they came in here, they played harder than us ... they played more physical than us.”

There can be no greater indictment than admitting the other team played with more energy, but Cincinnati did little with the victory, losing four of its next nine.

Meanwhile, Pitt has moved to within one game of first place in the Big East.

“Teams are going through their ups and downs right now and we seem to be getting better,” Dixon said.

The key to stopping Cincinnati is clear to Dixon: keep guards Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker under control.

They are Cincinnati's leading scorers, and they combined to score 47 points against Pitt.

“Their experience is what stands out,” Dixon said. “They are tough. They are experienced. They are old (all born within two months of each other 23 years ago). They are older kids, not just experienced kids.”

Pitt's other disadvantage is the game will be only its sixth on a hostile court — less than one-fourth of the season. Three of Pitt's next four games are on the road, but Dixon said his team is accustomed to unfriendly surroundings, winning three of five.

“You must have earmuffs on,” he said to a reporter. “You aren't hearing what (opposing crowds) are saying to us.”

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