Pitt won its second Big East game in a row, and its first at home in a 69-61 win over UConn on Saturday afternoon. Pitt improves to 15-4 overall, 3-3 in conference play.
The Panthers were led by three players in double-figures; Lamar Patterson with 14, Travon Woodall with 13 and James Robinson with 12. Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun led UConn with 20 points and 14 points, respectively.
"Great win for us," head coach Jamie Dixon said afterwards. "I'm really proud of our guys. We had good free throw shooting, I thought we really defended well in the first half. Great job rebounding by us."
For a second game in a row, Pitt outrebounded the opposition. This time, it was a 38-27 edge, which included 15 offensive rebounds. Those 15 offensive rebounds sparked 16 second chance points.
After being outrebounded in the first four conference games, the Panthers have had an average rebounding margin of +11.5 in the last two games.
"I think the rebounding, if you continue to go there with that, good things are going to happen," Dixon added.
Pitt jumped out to a 35-22 at the half, controlling the tempo of the game from the opening tip.
It started with Pitt converting five of its first seven shots in the half, but more importantly, the Panthers established a presence on the glass. In the first four Big East games, Pitt was outrebounded by each opponent. They held a 23-15 edge in the first half. A bigger difference was 10 offensive rebounds, including six putbacks off those 10 offensive rebounds. Talib Zanna had two of them, followed by Steven Adams, Trey Zeigler, J.J. Moore and Dante Taylor. Adams also added three blocked shots, all in the first half.
UConn led just once in the first half; a one-point lead in the game's early minutes. After that, they could only get within a point. After an Enosch Wolf basket made it a 10-9 Pitt lead. Zeigler answered with a jumper on the other end, followed by a putback from Moore. Pitt led 14-9 in a span of a minute later.
Pitt opened up a 19-11 lead after Zeigler added a putback off a missed three-pointer by Patterson. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie had to call a timeout.
Unfortunately, Ollie's timeout wasn't effective. If it wasn't rebounding--specifically offensive rebounding--Pitt was getting some good off ball movement. Zanna sealed off an open lane for Wright to to go in for a layup, untouched. Pitt built a double-digit lead, 25-15, hovering around the five-minute mark.
Patterson added a three-pointer, and Taylor added a putback to give Pitt a commanding 35-22 lead at the half. Commanding in the sense that Pitt had a 23-15 edge on the boards, was shooting at a 48.4 percent (15-31) clip, 14 second chance points, and the fact they were holding UConn to just 7-24 shooting (29.2%). Everything was working.
"A game like this, we can't spot them thirteen points like we did," Ollie said. "We didn't rebound like I expect our teams to rebound. They took it to us. You can't spot a good Pittsburgh team thirteen points."
UConn went on three mini-runs in the second half to try to get back in the game. Each time, despite going through a lapse, Pitt was able to answer. After the Huskies opened the second half with a 7-2 run, in less than three minutes, Pitt answered with a layup from Patterson and a three-pointer from Woodall.
UConn later went on a 7-0 run, making it a 49-43 Pitt lead as the game went under 10 minutes. A jumper from Wolf made it a six-point game. Dixon now called timeout, to regroup his team.
Despite getting in foul trouble--four players with three fouls each--UConn made it a 55-50 deficit with 6:12 left. Boatwright took it inside, converted his shot under the basket, then drew the foul and converted the free throw.
A three-pointer from Shabazz Napier made it a 55-53 Pitt lead, at the five-minute mark. To get back in the game, UConn used a 7-2 run in the first three minutes of the second half, a 7-0 run leading them to the 10-minute mark, and an 8-3 run approaching the five-minute mark.
Wolf came up with a loose ball, and could have tied the game for UConn on a fastbreak, but his dunk attempt bounced off the rim. Pitt came up with possession. Woodall answered with a three, keeping Pitt in front 58-53. Though UConn answered on its next two possessions, Robinson added another three-pointer, keeping Pitt ahead 61-58 and the game approaching the three-minute mark.
"This team has trust in (Robinson)," Woodall said. "We'll definitely go to that guy, and you know he'll be ready when that time comes."
Heading down the final stretch, Pitt got some big plays from players they needed it from. Taylor was fouled underneath, attempting an offensive rebound. He went to the line and converted both shots, extending the Pitt lead to 63-59.
"It's the Big East," Woodall added. "UConn is a tough team. The fans were behind us. It was a great atmosphere. We just stuck with it. We wanted to be patient, and get good shots."
On the next possession, off a missed jumper from Napier, Zanna came down with the defensive rebound.
Though Woodall missed a three-point attempt, he got it back on the next UConn possession. He came up with the defensive rebound, then dished inside to Taylor, who finished off with a jumper, making it a 65-59 Pitt lead with under a minute to play.
It wasn't quite the dominant first half performance, and they did a lot to let UConn get back in the game. But, anytime UConn challenged for the lead, Pitt seemed to have the right answer. Especially, in looking at Taylor knocking down his free throws, and Robinson knocking down a pair with 26.2 seconds left. Prior to Taylor's attempts, Pitt converted 9-17 free throws to start the game. Pitt finished with six in a row to close the game out.
"(UConn) made shots and plays to get back in it, and tie it up," Dixon said. "I thought we came up with the rebounds, we defended well, we made free throws obviously and we got a number of different jump shots by a number of different guys."