As the pressure grows, Pittsburgh seems to only be growing more confident.
Off to the best Big East start in their history, the second-ranked Panthers look to win their 10th straight Monday night when they host No. 15 Notre Dame, which is seeking its first league road victory.
Pittsburgh (19-1, 7-0) jumped three spots in the latest AP poll after claiming the conference lead by winning two games in impressive fashion last week. The Panthers handed then-No. 3 Syracuse its first loss of the season with a 74-66 victory last Monday, then cruised to an 80-50 win at DePaul on Saturday - the most lopsided conference road win in school history.
After holding the Orange to 39.1-percent shooting, the Panthers were sharp defensively again against the Blue Demons, who shot 34.6 percent.
Pittsburgh dominated overmatched DePaul throughout, as coach Jamie Dixon made sure his team didn’t suffer a letdown.
“Even with the Seton Hall game before the Syracuse game and how the DePaul game (came) before the Notre Dame game this Monday, (Dixon) always stresses it is almost the trap game because everybody in the media and the fans are looking forward to us playing the national ranked opponents,” senior Brad Wanamaker said. “Instead of just looking past them as if this was going to be an easy win, we really worked in practice and he stresses everyday that we have to stay focused.”
Gilbert Brown scored 17 points, Ashton Gibbs added 13 and Gary McGhee grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds - his third straight game with at least 10. McGhee has helped the Panthers outrebound their last three opponents by 17.7 per game.
Pittsburgh will now try to hand Notre Dame (16-4, 5-3) its fourth straight road loss.
Notre Dame is averaging 56.3 points on the road, where it has lost all three of its games by an average of 17.3 points. The Irish are scoring 72.6 per game in Big East play at home.
Ben Hansbrough scored 28 points against the Golden Eagles, including seven straight at one point to help Notre Dame rally from a 12-point second-half deficit.
“Ben makes us believe,” coach Mike Brey said. “He drives us. At crunch time, he is the guy who made us think we could win.”
While Hansbrough is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 45.8 percent from 3-point range at home, those averages dip to 13.0 points and 26.7 percent on the road.
Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh twice last season, including a matchup in the Big East tournament, but the Irish know they’re in for a challenge against the front-running Panthers.
“They’ve proven themselves to be a really tough team,” Notre Dame senior forward Tim Abromaitis said. “I think we will be excited for it, but they are definitely ready for us. It should be a good game.”