CINCINNATI -- Forty players in Pitt's history reached 1,000 points before Tray Woodall accomplished the milestone Saturday night, but not many of them did it in such dramatic fashion.
Woodall, a fifth-year senior guard, not only etched his name in the school record books, but he did it with flair, scoring eight of his 14 points in the final seven minutes of a come-from-behind, 62-52 victory against Cincinnati.
Woodall made big shot after big shot down the stretch for the Panthers, who erased a five-point halftime deficit and used a late surge to overtake the Bearcats. Woodall became the seventh player in school history to score 1,000 points and record 500 assists, but, in this game, Pitt needed his scoring in a game featuring two of the top defensive teams in the country.
Woodall made a 3-pointer to tie the score at 45-45 with 6:56 left. A few minutes later, he reached 1,000 when he made the second of two free throws that put Pitt ahead, 51-48. After a defensive stop, Woodall made the biggest shot. He drilled another 3-pointer -- his fourth of the game -- for a 54-48 lead with 3:21 left to put the game out of reach.
"That's what Tray does," junior forward Lamar Patterson said outside a joyous Pitt locker room. "He's been around a long time. We have so much faith and trust in him. He comes through like this all the time."
Pitt (20-5, 8-4) has won seven of its past eight games while creeping closer to the top of the conference. The turnaround has been keyed by defense, and the performance against the Bearcats kept that trend intact.
Cincinnati (18-6, 6-5) shot 30 percent, making only five field goals after halftime. The Bearcats were 4 for 25 (16 percent) from 3-point range and did not have an answer when Pitt coach Jamie Dixon went to a zone defense for long portions of the second half.
"The zone was something I thought we would use, but I didn't anticipate using it that much or having that amount of success that we had with it," Dixon said. "We've been working on it a lot. Tonight, it came in very handy. In the second half, we went to it and stayed with it. We limited their penetration."
Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick scored 15 points in the first half and the Bearcats led, 31-26, at halftime. But Kilpatrick had a hard time getting open in the second half. He scored one point in the final 20 minutes and missed all seven of his field-goal attempts.
"They were getting everything in the first half off penetration and kick-outs to him," Patterson said. "We just had to guard our men better in the second half and limit the penetration."
The Panthers also made a second-half adjustment on offense. They made a more concerted effort to get the ball inside to freshman center Steven Adams, who scored eight of his 13 points after intermission.
Adams made the first three baskets of the second half to keep the Panthers close. He did not speak with reporters after the game, but Woodall said he was motivated by the Cincinnati student section, which had a cardboard cutout of Adams' girlfriend, Kayla Kiriau, a basketball player at Sheridan Junior College in Wyoming.
"I wanted to feed the big guy inside because we knew how aggressive he wanted to be today," Woodall said. "They fired him up a little bit when he saw a picture of his girlfriend in the crowd."
Adams finished 5 for 6 from the field and also had four blocks and two assists, the final one to a cutting Talib Zanna that produced a 56-51 lead with 1:35 remaining.
Zanna had 11 points and nine rebounds for his first double-figure scoring since notching 15 in a Jan. 8 win at Georgetown.
"When Steve gets it going, we're a hard team to stop," Patterson said. "He's so big, so strong and so dominant. He's definitely a player we have to get the ball to. He and Talib dominated the paint today."
The dominant inside play was the biggest reason the Panthers were able to shoot 45.5 percent (20 for 44) against a Cincinnati team that had been limiting opponents to 37 percent shooting this season.
"This win shows we're growing as a team," Patterson said. "In the first game against Cincinnati, they took over in the second half. They actually dominated us in the first half today. But, in the second half, we came back and showed we wanted this win. We went out there and took it because they surely didn't give it to us."
NOTES -- Pitt was 18 for 27 from the free-throw line. ... Cincinnati won the rebounding battle, 33-30. ... No one else besides Woodall made a 3-pointer for the Panthers, who were 4 for 8 from 3-point range. ... Cincinnati's bench outscored Pitt's, 17-11.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published February 10, 2013 5:00 AM