Pittsburgh cracked the AP Top 25 on the strength of a surprising road win at Syracuse. The Panthers look to further that momentum on the road Monday night in a Big East clash with Cincinnati, which is trying to claw its way back into the national rankings.
The 23rd-ranked Panthers (12-2, 2-0) became the first team to hold then-No. 5 Syracuse under 47.5 percent shooting in Saturday’s 82-72 victory at the Carrier Dome. Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon combined for nine 3-pointers and 45 points, and Pittsburgh harassed the Orange into a 1-for-13 effort from beyond the arc in knocking Syracuse from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“We’re a team that’s gotten much better defensively. That’s our calling card,” said coach Jamie Dixon, who moved into second place in career wins at Pitt with 175. “They’re as good as anybody in the country. Maybe we just caught them on the right day.”
The Panthers, who have won five straight, are giving up a Big East-low 57.1 points per game—good for eighth nationally. They also are limiting opponents to a conference-low 27.0 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Gibbs, who averages a team-high 17.4 points, has totaled 47 in Pitt’s two Big East victories while making 9 of 13 from 3-point range. Despite his strong play, Pittsburgh is second-to-last in the 16-team Big East in scoring at 67.4 points per game.
Cincinnati (10-3, 2-0) may have finally turned a corner in a bid for its first NCAA tournament appearance since coach Bob Huggins’ final season in 2004-05. The Bearcats followed a 71-69 upset of then-No. 10 Connecticut on Wednesday with a 65-58 victory at Rutgers on Saturday for their fourth straight win overall.
Deonta Vaughn scored 17 points and Yancy Gates added 10 and eight rebounds off a Cincinnati bench which had 34 points. The Bearcats limited the Scarlet Knights to 37.0 percent shooting and outscored them 21-4 in second-chance points.
“There were a couple of things that changed the game for us, our offensive rebounding and obviously our bench outscoring their bench 34-15,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We’re a team that has some options and we can make some changes and adjustments. It’s nice to be able to make some adjustments and play different guys.”
The Bearcats were ranked in three consecutive polls from Nov. 30-Dec. 14, but fell out of the Top 25 following losses at Xavier and UAB on Dec. 13 and 16, respectively.
Pittsburgh has won three straight over Cincinnati since a 62-59 loss Jan. 19, 2008. The Panthers shot 67.4 percent in an 85-69 home win Feb. 14 in the most recent meeting as Dixon was among five Pitt players in double figures with 14 points.
The Bearcats, though, lead the all-time series 7-6.