In its first game as the nation’s No. 1 team, Pittsburgh had some early jitters and looked sloppy at times. It should be able to fix those problems against South Florida.
The top-ranked Panthers look for a stronger effort Wednesday when they try to open with 16 straight victories for the first time in five years as they host the Bulls, who have not beaten a ranked team on the road in 17 years.
Pittsburgh (15-0, 3-0 Big East) jumped to the top spot for the first time in school history in last week’s poll after defeating then-No. 11 Georgetown 70-54 on Jan. 3.
In their first game as the No. 1 team, the Panthers beat St. John’s 90-67 on Sunday, but it wasn’t easy. Pitt committed nine first-half turnovers and led by just five at the break before scoring 49 points on 57.6 percent shooting in the second half.
“We weren’t as good as we could have been,” coach Jamie Dixon said.
Pittsburgh, which also opened 15-0 in 2005-06, hasn’t started a season with 16 straight victories since winning the first 18 games of 2003-04 - Dixon’s first season as coach.
Although the Panthers came out a little sluggish on Sunday, they didn’t say the No. 1 ranking was a distraction.
“Obviously because it’s the first time in the program’s history, you take notice of it,” senior point guard Levance Fields said. “But we’re smart, experienced players here, so no one’s getting a big head or letting it change the way we play. There’s still a long season to go.”
Fields, second in the nation with a 4.35 assist-to-turnover ratio, finished with 13 points and nine assists on Sunday.
Sam Young, who is averaging a team-high 19.0 points, had an off night against the Red Storm. Young scored 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but it didn’t matter much as DeJuan Blair stepped up with another outstanding performance.
Blair scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds after finishing with 20 points and 17 boards against the Hoyas.
“Blair is an absolute beast,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “It seems like his mindset is, ‘I’m going to get the ball.’”
Blair had 12 points and nine rebounds in last season’s 79-66 win at South Florida (6-9, 1-2), while Young finished with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
The Panthers, who beat the Bulls 69-48 at the Peterson Events Center in 2007, have won both meetings with South Florida since it joined the Big East in 2005-06.
The Bulls are 8-45 in conference play since joining the Big East, going 2-24 on the road. They’ve also lost 23 straight road games against Top 25 opponents since an 81-76 win at then-No. 15 Tulane on Feb. 6, 1992.
Pitt is 106-10 at the Petersen Events Center since it opened in 2002.
“We’ve got to go there on a mission to win,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “Anything can happen. If something happens here or there and you get a break or somebody gets on a roll, you never know.”
The Bulls won at DePaul 80-58 on Saturday after losing their first three road games of the season.
Dominique Jones led South Florida with 22 points and eight rebounds, and is averaging 21.5 points in his last four games - 4.5 better than his team-leading average. He had 13 points against Pitt last season as a freshman.
Jesus Verdejo, who had 17 points last season versus the Panthers, added 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday.
This will be South Florida’s third game against a top-ranked team. The Bulls lost to North Carolina 75-39 on Dec. 12, 1981, and fell 89-72 to Cincinnati on Jan. 29, 2000.
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