Pitt's impressive road victories make up for setbacks at home

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Pitt's best victory this season resonates as one of the most impressive by any team in NCAA Division I.

The Panthers traveled to Georgetown Jan. 8 and won by 28 points, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in 39 years and prompting coach John Thompson III to call the performance of his team "embarrassing."

Georgetown, seven weeks later, is in first place in the Big East Conference and in contention for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. It's hard to imagine another team in Division I with a better win on its resume.

It was one of several quality wins on the road for the Panthers. Pitt also won by 15 points at Villanova, by 10 at Cincinnati and are coming off a 16-point victory Sunday against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers have been more than good enough on the road this season, but the reason they're playing for positioning in the Big East tournament rather than a conference championship in the final weeks of the season is their pedestrian 4-3 home record at Petersen Events Center.

"To win a conference championship, you can't lose three home games," coach Jamie Dixon said. "Our road record put us in position to win a conference championship. Our home record didn't."

It used to be that Pitt enjoyed one of the best home-court advantages in Division I, but in recent years plenty of opponents have found the Petersen Events Center environs quite comfortable.

Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, and for the first nine seasons, Pitt compiled a 149-12 in the building. In the past two seasons, the Panthers are 29-10 and only 8-8 against Big East competition.

"We have to get that solved," Dixon said.

No. 23 Pitt (21-7, 9-6) has two home games remaining this season, including a contest tonight against last-place South Florida (10-16, 1-13).

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    No. 23 Pitt (21-7, 9-6 Big East) vs. South Florida (10-16, 1-13), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.

  • TV, Radio, Internet:

    Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.

  • Pitt:

    Coming off 63-47 victory Sunday at St. John's. ... Senior G Tray Woodall (11.4 ppg, 5.2 apg) scored a season-high 25 points against the Red Storm. ... Junior F Lamar Patterson (10.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is 10 for 23 from the free-throw line in the past six games and his percentage at the line has fallen to .632 for the season. ... Junior F Talib Zanna (9.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) has made one field goal or fewer in four of the past five games.

  • South Florida:

    Coming off 69-54 loss a week ago at St. John's. ... 5-5 against Pitt, including two double-digit victories against the Panthers a year ago. ... Lone Big East Conference victory this season was vs. first-place Georgetown. ... Led by Victor Rudd (11.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

  • Hidden stat:

    Freshman C Steven Adams has scored eight points or more in eight of the past nine games.

Even though a conference championship is out of reach, much remains at stake.

The Panthers can finish among the top four teams in the league and receive a double bye for the conference tournament.

Pitt is in seventh place, but the Panthers would be the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament if the season ended today. Sixth-place Connecticut is not eligible because of NCAA rules violations.

The Panthers can finish with a 12-6 conference record by winning their final three games against South Florida, Villanova at home and at DePaul. Then they would have to hope two of the other five teams in front of them to falter down the stretch.

South Florida was one of the seven teams that came to Petersen Events Center and won a year ago. The Bulls swept two games from Pitt in 2011-12, including the 56-47 win in Pittsburgh.

The Bulls made the NCAA tournament for the first time under Stan Heath and were expected to compete for another berth this season, but they enter the game tonight with just one conference win. They have lost nine consecutive games, the past five by an average of almost 19 points per game.

"They're not having a great season, but that will give them more energy to play us on our home court," Pitt sophomore guard Cameron Wright said. "We have to protect our home court."

South Florida returns several players from its NCAA tournament team, including leading scorer and rebounder Victor Rudd, who is averaging 11.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

But Rudd hasn't had much help from his teammates.

The Bulls are among the lowest-scoring teams in Division I. They average 59 points per game, which is last in the Big East and 330th among 345 teams in Division I. They have failed to score 50 points six times in 14 conference games.

Pitt, meanwhile, is the top defensive team in the conference, allowing an average of 54.9 points per game. The Panthers have held four Big East opponents to fewer than 50 points.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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