The absence of Ashton Gibbs for the past two games left Pittsburgh without its leading scorer and only real threat from 3-point range.
The fourth-ranked Panthers have survived just fine.
Pitt has pulled out two impressive road victories without Gibbs and could see the junior guard return from his left knee injury Wednesday night as it tries to drop woeful South Florida to 0-11 away from home.
The Panthers (23-2, 11-1 Big East) learned shortly before their Feb. 7 date at West Virginia that they’d be without Gibbs, who averages 16.3 points, for at least 10 days as he dealt with a sprained MCL.
Pitt beat the rival Mountaineers 71-66 thanks to a 48-point outburst in the second half, then again rallied in the final 20 minutes Saturday at Villanova.
Down four at the intermission, the Panthers held the Wildcats to three baskets in the first 14 minutes of the second half, taking over to win 57-54 behind 21 points from senior guard Brad Wanamaker.
“We knew we had this game,” said Wanamaker, one of five players in the nation to average at least 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. “… It was fun. A hostile environment, no Ashton Gibbs and we got the win.”
The biggest thing missing without Gibbs, who practiced Monday with a brace on his knee, has been a threat from beyond the arc. Pitt has made two of its 16 3-pointers in the past two games.
Jamie Dixon’s team keeps playing impressive defense, however. The Panthers have surrendered 57.8 points per game since Jan. 22, best in the conference.
“That’s what we do, we defend, and we do it for 40 minutes,” Dixon said.
Defending South Florida (8-18, 2-11) hasn’t been difficult for anyone a season after star guard Dominique Jones moved on to the NBA. The Bulls score 62.0 points per game, the lowest average of any school in one of the six major conferences.
They certainly looked helpless offensively Saturday. South Florida fell behind 41-17 at halftime and shot a season-low 30.4 percent in a 78-55 home loss to No. 8 Notre Dame.
“There’s just no excuse. … I’m in the locker room trying to figure out are we scared of them or are just not tough enough,” coach Stan Heath said. “Either one is not good.”
Augustus Gilchrist was leading the Bulls with an average of 13.2 points in his first 18 games, but he’s averaged 7.4 and shot 24.5 percent in his last five. The junior forward had a 1-for-10, three-point effort against the Fighting Irish.
Gilchrist, though, might have some fond personal memories of the Petersen Events Center. He scored 22 points off the bench there as a freshman Jan. 14, 2009, though the top-ranked Panthers won 75-62.
Nothing came easy for Pitt in the teams’ meeting Jan. 31, 2010, in Tampa, however. Jones had 37 points in a 70-61 victory over the then-No. 17 Panthers that evened the overall series at three games apiece.
The Bulls won at then-No. 7 Georgetown three days later, their only road victory over a ranked team since 1996.
South Florida has averaged 56.7 points in its 10 losses away from home this season.