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No. 23 Pitt welcomes struggling USF

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon yells to his team as in the first half of the Panthers' game against Oakland Nov. 17, 2012, at Petersen Events Center. AP
Jamie Dixon has coached Pitt to a 4-3 Big East record at Petersen Events Center this season. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Jamie Dixon can be defensive when it comes to Pitt's accomplishments this season, wasting no time pointing out that the Panthers have an impressive road record in Big East play.

The only problem is that No. 23 Pitt (21-7, 9-6) has won more conference games away from Petersen Events Center than it has at home heading into a game against South Florida (10-16, 1-13) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The Panthers are 5-3 on the road and 4-3 at the Pete, where they blew a 16-point lead in a 51-42 loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 18. Pitt is one of only three Big East teams to have a worse record at home than they do on the road (Cincinnati and Providence are the others).

Pitt also has lost at home to Cincinnati and Marquette, and Dixon realizes that the home record could cost the Panthers a chance at the Big East regular-season title.

“To win a conference championship, you can't lose three home games, and that's what we've done,” Dixon said. “But our road record puts us in a position to win a conference championship.

“We didn't do it at home. That's obvious when you look at it. We've got to get that resolved. We've got to play well Wednesday. We've got to defend well and we've got to execute offensively.”

USF, which has lost nine in a row, might be the perfect antidote. Not only are the Bulls in last place in the league, but they also rank last in scoring offense (59.0 ppg), scoring margin (minus-3.8), field-goal percentage (.388) and assists (11.35 apg).

The lack of an inside presence has hampered the production of Anthony Collins, who torched Pitt for 22 points, six assists and two steals in a 56-47 victory at the Pete last year. The sophomore guard is averaging 8.8 points and 6.4 assists.

USF's is led by 6-foot-9 redshirt junior forward Victor Rudd, who leads the Bulls in scoring (11.5) and rebounding (7.1), and 6-8 senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who adds 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. They also are the top two 3-point shooters, which could cause matchup problems.

“They're very athletic and they really attack the basket with their wings,” Dixon said. “The big kid, Fitzpatrick, is the challenge for us in preparing for a guy that plays on the outside, the perimeter. …

“He's a big ­— he can play the 4 or the 5 — but he's a face-up guy first.”

USF swept the series with Pitt last season, so the Panthers know not to take the Bulls lightly. With two home games remaining — Pitt hosts Villanova at noon Sunday — the Panthers also want to re-establish the Pete as a place opponents hate to play.

“They're not having a great year this year, but that would give them all the more energy to come out and play even harder against us on our home floor,” Pitt redshirt sophomore swingman Cameron Wright said. “We've just got to protect our home court.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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