January 7, 2007

Pitt goes small, cruises past South Florida

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PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh overcame another ineffective game by star Aaron Gray, turning to a smaller unit to open an 11-point lead over South Florida in the first half and the No. 10 Panthers were never pushed after that in a 69-48 victory Sunday.

The 7-foot Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year, scored in single digits for the fourth game in a row - he had seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in only 20 minutes. Also, 6-10 power forward Levon Kendall was held to five points by the smaller Bulls.

That lack of inside scoring hardly mattered as the Panthers (14-2, 2-0 in Big East) turned to their backcourt not only for scoring but strong defense.

Pitt is 10-0 at home this season. South Florida is 1-17 in Big East play since moving from Conference USA last season.

Pitt led 16-15 before going on a 10-0 run late in the first half with both Gray and Kendall on the bench. Antonio Graves hit a 3-pointer and scored on a driving layup and backup guard Ronald Ramon followed with a 3-pointer to make it 26-15.

The Panthers, playing the Bulls (9-7, 0-2) for the first time in the Big East, then limited South Florida to four points in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half while opening a 42-26 lead. During that stretch, Sam Young made three free throws during an 8-0 run.

Pitt came into the game shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, only to make 10-of-16 (63 percent) with Levance Fields going 3-of-4 and Ramon 3-of-5. Fields was Pitt's only double-figure scorer with 11 points, but the balanced Panthers had seven players with seven or more points.

Gray, playing constantly with defenders in front and behind him, has been limited to 26 points in his last four games after averaging 20 over the three games before that. All that attention on Gray is allowing the Panthers' guards to take open 3-pointers and enjoy more room to operate on the offensive end, as evidenced by point guard Fields' 24 points in a 74-66 decision at Syracuse on Thursday.

For more coverage of the Pitt Panthers, check out PantherLair.com.com; for more on the South Florida Bulls, check out USFBullseye.com.

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