HARTFORD, Conn. -- There are Big East teams that go years without winning games at Syracuse and Connecticut. Pitt pulled off the rare feat of beating two of the best teams in the conference on the road in the span of 11 days.
No. 16 Pitt came into the XL Center and beat No. 15 Connecticut for the second time in as many years. Last night's 67-57 victory extended Pitt's winning streak to seven games, and it marked the first time in school history the Panthers won three consecutive games on the road.
Are there any doubters left?
"This is huge," junior forward Gilbert Brown said. "It was a great feeling, a joyous feeling. We felt like we put in a lot of hard work in practice. The hard preparation really paid off. A lot of people probably doubt us, but we pulled it out again."
Pitt (14-2, 4-0) now comes home for a two-game homestand against Louisville and Georgetown after beating Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut on the road.
For those who held back on their optimism about this scrappy team, last night was another reason to get on the bandwagon. The Panthers were outshot by the Huskies, but they were not outhustled.
After only grabbing 14 rebounds in the first half, the Panthers pulled down 26 in the second half to beat the Huskies by nine on the boards, 40-31. They also got to every loose ball, stymied Connecticut's quick-strike offense and made big play after big play down the stretch to secure the victory.
"Confidence was a big part of pulling it out tonight," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We had a nice lead, we played well. They made some plays, and then we were down. We didn't put our heads down. We responded in a positive way."
Pitt led by 10 early in the second half, but Connecticut (11-5, 2-3) went on a 16-5 run to take a 49-48 lead with 8:58 remaining. Connecticut had all of the momentum, but the Panthers did not wilt under the pressure.
Nasir Robinson, who hadn't made a basket all game, drove the baseline and made a reverse layup to give Pitt the lead for good with 5:48 remaining. It was the first basket for either team in more than three minutes.
"Nas brings all the intangibles," Brown said. "He'll scrap every minute of the game that he's in there. He boxes out. He rebounds. He makes tough plays. When he checked into the game we said, 'Make something happen.' And he went out there and made a play. He makes that play every day in practice. He's great around the basket, and he made a big-time play for us."
That ignited a 9-2 run that gave the Panthers some breathing room down the stretch. Connecticut, losers of three of the past five, managed to cut the lead to four with 43 seconds remaining, and Ashton Gibbs missed the front end of a one-and-one. But the Huskies could not capitalize at the other end, and Pitt was able to close out the game at the line.
Pitt made 17 of 20 free throws. Brad Wanamaker was 9 for 10 from the line and finished with 19 points. Gibbs also had 19 points and was 3 for 5 from 3-point range. He has made 18 of his past 27 3-point attempts and has scored 19 points or more in five of the past six games.
Pitt has held 11 of its first 16 opponents to 60 points or fewer. The Panthers held the Huskies to their lowest point output of the season. The key was limiting their transition offense, which Dixon characterized as the best the Panthers will face all season.
The Huskies only had 16 fastbreak points and struggled when the Panthers forced them to score in their half-court offense. They missed 10 of their final 13 shots from the field after taking the lead with a little less than nine minutes remaining.
"Congratulations to Pittsburgh," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "We allowed them, and they did control the game. They basically controlled the tempo of the game. We got beat on the backboards miserably in the second half. And we really don't have an excuse for it. I thought they were tough. They were physical. They played with a sense of purpose and hungriness. And I don't think we played with anywhere neat the sense of purpose we needed, particularly offensively."
Much of that had to do with Pitt's ability to get back on defense.
"We really felt like they couldn't score on us in a half-court set," Brown said. "It really played out that way. When they made their runs we were letting them get out in transition. When we got back on defense we made stops. And it really helped us."
Now, after 19 days and three thrilling victories, the Panthers return for a home game Saturday afternoon against Louisville.
"It's been a great three-game road trip," Wanamaker said. "But we're ready to play at the Pete and play in front of our home fans."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com . First Published January 14, 2010 5:00 AM