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Gibbs leads Pitt to lopsided win over UConn

| Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

When Pitt plays Connecticut, it's typically a hard-fought, physical, tightly contested game.

Two out of three isn't bad.

In front of an overflow crowd at Petersen Events Center, No. 6 Pitt earned a rare lopsided victory over Connecticut, beating the No. 4 Huskies, 78-63, last night in the first Big East game of the season.

"We did some good things," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We took good shots for the most part. Our half-court offense was good. Our defense was much, much improved."

Ashton Gibbs had 21 points and seven assists, Brad Wanamaker scored 14, and Gary McGhee (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Nasir Robinson (11 points, 10 rebounds) each had double-doubles, as Pitt withstood another big night from UConn guard Kemba Walker.

Pitt, the Big East preseason favorite, never trailed and led by as many as 17 points in the second half to improve to 48-1 in its past 49 home games.

"I think we showed what a veteran team we are," Gibbs said. "I think it was more of us being an experienced team rather than them being a young team."

The past 11 meetings between the two Big East rivals have been decided by 10 points or fewer, but the over-capacity crowd of 12,725 saw Pitt's most lopsided regular-season victory over Connecticut in 23 years.

The Panthers (13-1), who never trailed, won their fourth game in a row against previously undefeated UConn (10-1) and improved to 8-0 against top-5 teams at the Pete.

Pitt shot 52 percent from the field, while holding Connecticut to 32 percent (19 for 60). Pitt, the No.1 rebounding team in the nation, was outrebounded, 36-33.

"They just locked us up defensively," coach Jim Calhoun said. "The only thing we did was we rebounded."

With the victory, Pitt prevailed in arguably the most anticipated conference opener in the program's history and outmuscled the Huskies in another chapter of a rivalry fraught with conference and postseason implications.

Walker, the nation's leading scorer, scored 31 points and added five steals, but he took nearly half of his team's shots. Walker was 10 of 27 from the field and went 3 of 11 from 3-point range. No one else scored more than nine points for Connecticut.

"Coming into the game, we didn't want him to get his (points)," Wanamaker said. "But him being a great player, he went out and got it. He made some tough shots. I feel as though we had a good team effort on defense, and we made a lot of things tough for their players."

Pitt controlled the tempo all game, allowing the Huskies to score only six fast-break points while playing strong transition defense.

"It was something we really emphasized and really talked about," Dixon said. "It was key. We wanted them to play in the half-court, and I thought for the most part we did."

Alex Oriakhi, the second-leading rebounder in the Big East, was in foul trouble all game and finished with eight points and one rebound. The 6-foot-9 Oriakhi, who had 17 rebounds against Michigan State, got his lone rebound against Pitt with four minutes left in the game.

"He's not playing well," Calhoun said. "He's not proving right now that he's the player I know he's capable of being."

Pitt limited UConn to two field goals in the opening 11 minutes of the second half.

Pitt took a 60-45 lead on McGhee's 3-point play with 8:40 to play, but Walker scored 10 consecutive points during a 10-2 run to pull Connecticut within 62-55 with five minutes to play. But Wanamaker's layup and Gibbs' 3-pointer pushed the lead to 67-55, and Pitt led by at least nine points the rest of the way.

The Panthers led, 37-28, after a whistle-heavy first half that featured more fouls (26) than field goals (21) and nearly twice as many turnovers (19) as assists (10).

Pitt started quickly, making seven of its first nine shots to sprint to a 16-7 lead five minutes into the game. Five different Panthers scored during the early run, highlighted by a soaring Gilbert Brown alley-oop dunk with 15:31 to play in the first half.

Connecticut pulled to within 32-26 with five minutes left in the first half, but Pitt limited the Huskies to one field goal over the final 4:06 of the half.

"I was disappointed that we allowed a team - a very good team, by the way -- to take us out of a lot of things that we did," Calhoun said. "We lost some of the swagger that we needed to have to win the game."

Additional Information:

Around the Panthers

• Junior power forward Nasir Robinson made his first start of the season, replacing redshirt freshman Talib Zanna, who had started the first 12 games. The 6-foot-5 Robinson, who started all 34 games last season, had missed the first three games this season with a knee injury but was averaging more minutes per game than Zanna since returning.

• Pitt is off for the next week before returning to play at Providence on Jan. 4. The last time the Panthers traveled to Providence, they were upset by the Friars, 81-73, on Feb. 24, 2009. Pitt was the No. 1 team in the nation at the time.

• The snowstorm that paralyzed much of the Northeast didn't affect the Connecticut men's basketball team. The Huskies were scheduled to leave Pittsburgh on a chartered jet late last night and return to Hartford, according to assistant director of athletics Kyle Muncy. The storm dumped about a foot of snow on parts of Connecticut, but Bradley International Airport in Hartford was one of the few airports in the Northeast that wasn't closed.

• Last night's crowd of 12,725 was the sixth largest at Petersen Events Center. The arena seats 12,508.

• Yesterday's game marked the 11th time in their past 12 meetings that both Pitt and Connecticut were ranked in the Top 25 in the nation. It was the sixth time in the past 12 meetings that both teams were in the Top 10.

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