No. 4 Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati, 85-69
PITTSBURGH (AP)—Pittsburgh took care of business against Cincinnati so its fans could look ahead to Connecticut.
The No. 4 Panthers rolled to their fifth straight win, an 85-69 victory over the Bearcats that had their fans chanting “We want UConn” during the final minutes of Saturday’s game.
Sam Young had 18 points DeJuan Blair added 17, and point guard Levance Fields had 13 assists and no turnovers for the Panthers, who tied a school record by shooting 67.4 percent from the field ahead of their showdown at No. 1 UConn on Monday.
“Obviously, everybody’s talking about that (UConn) game and kind of overlooking this one, but we did a great job preparing for this,” said Fields, who has the six top assist games among Big East players this season. “Now the stage is set.”
Jermaine Dixon added 14 points and Gilbert Brown 12 for the Panthers (23-2, 10-2 Big East), who shot 72 percent in the first half and missed only eight two-point field goal attempts the entire game.
“I thought they might come out a little lackadaisical, maybe sleeping on us, and we’d attack on that,” Cincinnati forward Alvin Mitchell said. “But they actually came out ready to play, like they should.”
Mike Williams had 17 points and Larry Davis 13 for Cincinnati (17-9,7-6), which came into the game having won three straight and five of six, but still lacking a signature victory for its NCAA tournament resume that a win at a top-five team would have provided.
Though Pitt never trailed, Cincinnati got within 54-49 with less than 13 minutes to play. But the Panthers responded with a 9-0 run to take control.
“That’s why they may win the national championship,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “We had a couple empty trips that hurt us. You don’t have much margin for error against Pitt. Getting down 11 is tough, but I’m proud of our guys. They never let up. We kept fighting, we kept trying to fight back, claw back in it. “
Fields, the conference leader in assists, entered the game ranked second in the nation and has averaged 12.3 assists during his past four games.
“Thirteen assists and no turnovers? Those numbers are mind-boggling,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “And we’re almost taking them for granted. Thirteen assists and no turnovers, that’s an unbelievable performance. He’s doing it game after game after game down the stretch here. I don’t know who’s playing better than him. As a point guard, you can’t play better than those numbers.”
Blair also saluted Fields’ effort.
“He’s the general out there,” the 6-foot-7 forward said. “He runs the team.”
The Panthers had shot better than 60 percent from the field only once earlier this season, when they made 62.2 percent of their shots against Belmont in November.
Pitt’s previous best shooting day was an identical 31-for-46 outing against Kent State March 17, 2006.
“We just weren’t able to stop them at the end of the day,” Cronin said.
Pitt has shot at least 45 percent during each of its conference victories, with the past nine coming by double digits. The Panthers have won six of seven overall and 18 consecutive games at the Petersen Events Center.
Next up for Pitt is Connecticut, which won its 13th consecutive game Saturday at Seton Hall. The Panthers are 1 1/2 games behind the Huskies at the top of the conference standings.
“There’ve been lots of questions this past week about Connecticut rather than Cincinnati,” Jamie Dixon said. “Our guys understand that (the media’s) job is different than our job. They understand that, but we know what we have to focus on.”
Pittsburgh, which improved to 15-0 at home this season, has won at least 20 games overall and 10 Big East contests in each of the past eight seasons.
“We were playing today,” Blair said. “We can run with the best of them when we’re playing like this.”