CINCINNATI (AP)—During a light pregame practice, Levance Fields took one 3-point shot after another and watched most of them swish. He knew he was headed for a big night.
Fields made a career-high six 3-pointers Wednesday night, leading a long-range spree that carried No. 9 Pittsburgh to a 67-51 victory over Cincinnati.
The Panthers (18-3, 6-1) held onto their spot atop the Big East by featuring their dangerous inside-out attack. Pitt went 12-of-19 from 3-point range against a smaller team determined to not get beaten inside by 7-foot center Aaron Gray.
Fields and the rest of the Panthers’ shooters made the Bearcats pay.
“During the shootaround, I made a lot of shots,” said Fields, a sophomore guard who had never made more than three 3s in a game. “I knew I had to be more aggressive tonight. In the last two games, I’d passed up some open shots.”
There were plenty to go around.
Pitt’s balance helped it rebound from its first conference loss, a 77-74 overtime defeat to Marquette on Sunday that snapped a seven-game winning streak. In addition to Fields’ 18 points, Ronald Ramon and Sam Young had 10 points apiece.
The Panthers shot 60.5 percent from the field overall, the best mark by an opponent at Cincinnati’s 18-year-old arena.
“The shooting was great, but it started from our passing, as always,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We know we can shoot well. It was the passing. Even the ones we missed were wide-open looks. It started inside with the passing from Aaron.”
John Williamson scored 15 points to lead Cincinnati (10-9, 1-4), which couldn’t build upon its upset of West Virginia on Saturday, its first conference win of the season.
“Pitt’s got a great team,” coach Mick Cronin said. “That being said, I don’t think we gave them our best shot. What we learned today is we can’t miss layups and free throws and overcome it against the best team in our league. Also, we can’t have defensive breakdowns the way we did. We gave them open shots in the first half.”
Fields set the tone by going 6-of-7 on 3-pointers, thwarting every defense the Bearcats tried. Cincinnati played zone, man-to-man, full-court press and half-court trap, but the Panthers solved them all with patience.
Cincinnati plays primarily man-to-man, but came out in a zone to contain Gray, who averages a double-double. Gray scored the Panthers’ first basket, then didn’t have another for the rest of the half. He finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
As a result, one of the league’s best 3-point shooting teams got a lot of openings. Pitt makes 39.5 percent, second in the Big East, and Ramon leads the league at 47.9 percent.
The Panthers had their touch from their very first try.
Ramon went 3-of-3 from behind the arc in the first half, and Fields was 5-of-6. Pitt went 10-of-14 on 3s in the half, setting up a 38-26 lead.
The double-digit deficit was familiar for Cincinnati, which has fallen behind by big margins in each of its last three games. The Bearcats trailed by 19 points before rallying for a lead and then losing to Syracuse, and overcame a 17-point deficit before pulling off the overtime win against West Virginia on Saturday.
Pitt’s defense made sure there wouldn’t be a rally this time.
“Being down 12 to Pitt is not like being down 12 to other people,” Cronin said. “Being down 12 to Pitt is like being down 25 to most other teams.”
Marvin Gentry led Cincinnati’s comeback against West Virginia by scoring a career-high 32 points. Pitt didn’t give him any open shots early, and Gentry wound up with three fouls and no shots in the first half. He finished with three points.
Fields opened the second half with a 3-pointer that built the lead to 15 points. Young had a fastbreak dunk, a pull-up jumper and a driving basket during a 14-2 spurt that made it 58-34 midway through the second half.
Pitt was the third ranked team Cincinnati has played this season. The Bearcats lost by 22 points to Ohio State and by 33 points to Memphis.