Cincinnati has dropped 16 straight Big East road games against ranked opponents heading into Saturday’s matchup with the No. 4 Panthers.
The Panthers (20-2, 8-1) have at least two fewer losses than every other team in the conference and have not played since a 65-62 win at Rutgers last Saturday. Ashton Gibbs scored 24 points as Pittsburgh won despite shooting 35.6 percent.
“We really took some time to get our legs back and get healthy in a lot of ways since we played Rutgers,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We defended well, rebounded well against Rutgers and made free throws in a real physical game.”
Pittsburgh’s two worst shooting performances came last week. The Panthers shot 40.0 percent in a 56-51 home loss to then-No. 15 Notre Dame on Jan. 24.
“As we go into Cincinnati, we just are trying to improve in a couple of areas,” Dixon said. “I think offensive execution and defensive communication are really the two things we emphasized this week for our guys.”
Pitt has lost consecutive Big East games at the Petersen Events Center once previously from Feb 23-26, 2006. That makes this matchup a daunting task for Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4), which is 0-3 there and has not beaten a Top 25 Big East team on the road since an 85-73 win at then-No. 21 Marquette on Jan. 14, 2004.
The Bearcats are 9-30 in conference road games under fifth-year coach Mick Cronin, who has yet to guide the team to an NCAA tournament berth. His club fell 66-55 at home last Saturday to West Virginia, coached by former longtime Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins.
Huggins guided the Mountaineers to the Final Four last season, and the pressure is on Cronin to finally lead the Bearcats to the NCAAs. Cincinnati shot 35.0 percent.
“We let our ineptitude on offense affect our energy on defense enough to get us beat,” coach Mick Cronin said. “That’s one thing we haven’t done all year.”
Leading scorer Dion Dixon is shooting 23.8 percent in his last two games after scoring nine points on 3-of-12 shooting last Saturday. Yancy Gates, who averages 11.4 points and 6.9 rebounds, was limited to seven and five, respectively, as Cincinnati was outrebounded 42-30.
“You have to be great at rebounding, and we weren’t great at rebounding,” Cronin said. “Not enough to make up for our lack of rebounding.”
Gates had a solid effort in last season’s 74-71 home loss to Pitt with 16 points and 14 boards. Gibbs had 19 points as the Panthers won their fourth straight in the series.
Pitt continues to lead the Big East with 18.8 assists per game, but totaled 17 in last week’s poor-shooting efforts. The Panthers are seeking a return to form.
“We’re not where we need to be and we understand that so we’re trying to get better both on the offensive side and the defensive side,” Jamie Dixon said.