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Pitt pounds overmatched Illinois-Chicago

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010

Unlike its season opener, fifth-ranked Pitt never gave visiting Illinois-Chicago a chance at pulling off an upset at Petersen Events Center on Wednesday night.

Even with victory assured early in the second half, coach Jamie Dixon didn't pull his starters until the Panthers stretched their lead over the Flames to 38 points in the waning minutes.

Guard Ashton Gibbs scored a game-high 24 points and dished out a career-high seven assists to lead the Panthers to a 97-54 win in the second round of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.

The Panthers (2-0) dominated both the offensive and defensive boards in sprinting to an early double-digit lead. The Flames (0-1) flamed out midway through the first half, mostly because they couldn't compete on the glass.

"We were excited," said Gibbs, who tallied 13 first-half points. "We didn't play as well defensively in the first half, but offensively we took advantage of what they gave us."

The Panthers, who shot 70 percent in the second half, were ignited by the hot shooting of Brad Wanamaker (17 points) and Gilbert Brown (12 points). And they outmuscled UIC for a 16-3 rebounding advantage to take a 26-10 lead midway through the first half.

The Flames, who didn't have a single steal, gift-wrapped this victory for Pitt as Dixon celebrated his birthday. UIC made just 12 of 30 field goal attempts in the first half, while Pitt was 16 of 34.

Brown and Wanamaker scored all but three of Pitt's first 19 points to stake the Panthers to a 43-29 lead at the half.

The Flames, getting team highs of 12 points and five rebounds from K.C. Robbins, were hammered on the boards, 45-25. They were out-rebounded, 26-12, in the first half - including an 11-3 advantage in offensive rebounds.

"We did some good things early, but they killed us on the glass," UIC coach Howard Moore said. "They came at us tough and tried to bury us."

The Panthers eased up some at the close of the first half, but steamrolled the Flames early in the second. Gibbs and Wanamaker scored nine straight during a 12-2 run to give Pitt a commanding 55-31 lead with 15:14 remaining.

"Our offense is versatile, and it makes teams play us honestly defensively," said Wanamaker, who added nine assists and six rebounds.

"There was improvement in the last five days," Dixon said. "With the last game being unique in style, we were looking at getting after it on both ends of the floor."

Notes: The Panthers, who will host North Florida at 4 p.m. Saturday, have won 49 consecutive home games against nonconference opponents and improved to 98-1 in its past 99 home games against non-Big East teams. ... The Panthers shot 58 percent from the floor against a UIC team that finished next to last in the Horizon League last season - 15 games behind Final Four runner-up Butler.

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