Both fourth-ranked Pitt and Cincinnati were short-handed Saturday night when the two teams met at the Petersen Events Center in a Big East Conference game.
The difference, however, is that while the Panthers were missing two key reserves, the Bearcats were missing their best player, Yancy Gates, and that was evident just about every time they were on offense as they struggled to score.
As a result, the Panthers had little trouble rolling to a 71-59 win against Cincinnati and maintaining their two-game lead in the Big East. It was Pitt's fifth consecutive win against the Bearcats, and the Panthers' 12th win in their past 13 Big East games.
Pitt (21-2, 9-2), playing without sophomore forward Dante Taylor (knees) and redshirt freshman forward Lamar Patterson (one-game suspension), made quick work of Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) as the Panthers jumped to a 10-4 lead and never looked back.
Cincinnati showed a little bit of fight as it got to within 15-12 on a jumper by Larry Davis with 10:16 to play but that would be as close as the Bearcats would get as the Panthers responded with a 6-0 run.
Davis then made a 3-pointer with 6:24 to play in the half to pull the Bearcats back to within 24-19, but the Panthers again responded as Gilbert Brown hit two free throws and a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 10.
After a free throw by Cincinnati's Anthony McLain, the Panthers blew the game open, closing the half on an 11-3 run to take a commanding and, given the Bearcats' offensive struggles, seemingly insurmountable, 40-23 halftime lead.
Pitt quickly slammed any thoughts of a Cincinnati comeback when Ashton Gibbs, who led the Panthers with 25 points and made all five of his 3-point attempts in a 7-of-11 shooting performance from the field, and Brown opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Gibbs, who also made 6 of 6 at the free-throw line, had his second consecutive 20-point game. It was the ninth time this season he has scored at least 20 points.
Pitt got sloppy late in the game, enabling the Bearcats to make a 10-2 charge to pull to within 10 points at 61-51, but the Panthers made 8 of 11 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win.
Gates, who was suspended and did not make the trip with the Bearcats, averages 11.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and is a key component of Cincinnati's offense.
Last year, he scored 16 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots against Pitt, but without him Saturday night the Bearcats struggled to find any offensive consistency.
Cincinnati grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, the most the Panthers have given up this season, but the Bearcats did not do a good job of cashing them in, managing only 15 second-chance points.
Brown scored 11 points to join Gibbs as the only Panthers to reach double figures in scoring, but center Gary McGhee added six points and 13 rebounds.
Pitt shot 46.8 percent (22 of 47) from the field for the game and 43.8 percent (7 of 16) from beyond the 3-point line.
Davis led Cincinnati with 13 points and Anthony McClain added 11.
NOTE -- Dixon issued the following statement on Patterson's suspension. "Lamar Patterson will be suspended for tonight's contest against Cincinnati for disciplinary reasons. The one-game suspension stems from his involvement in a December incident that took place off campus."
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or 412-263-1720. First Published February 6, 2011 5:00 AM