Pittsburgh won't have any margin for error as it tries to win the outright Big East crown for the first time in seven seasons.
The fourth-ranked Panthers play their final road game Wednesday night when they try to hand South Florida a 12th straight loss against a ranked opponent.Pittsburgh (25-4, 13-3) is one-half game ahead of No. 8 Notre Dame for first place in the Big East. The Fighting Irish have the tiebreaker by virtue of their 56-51 victory Jan. 24.The Panthers can ensure their first title since 2003-04 by beating South Florida (9-20, 3-13) on Wednesday and struggling No. 19 Villanova on Saturday.Pittsburgh would have been in position to clinch in Florida if not for a 62-59 overtime loss at then-No. 16 Louisville on Sunday. The Panthers came up short after shooting 56.0 percent in the second half to force overtime following a 32.0 percent effort over the first 20 minutes."I like how we responded in the second half," coach Jamie Dixon said. "I thought it was something we could build upon. We attacked the zone and were getting good shots."Ashton Gibbs, playing his third game since missing three with an MCL injury in his left knee, had 14 points but shot 3 of 11. The Panthers have lost two of three games since getting their leading scorer back after going 3-0 in the stretch without him."Actually thought Gibbs got good shots," Dixon said. "Sometimes shots fall and sometimes they don't. But he had 14 points. He was 2 of 6 from 3-point land and had good looks. I don't want to read too much into that."Gibbs leads the Big East with a 46.1 percent mark on 3-pointers, although he is 3 for 11 in his last two games.One of the victories Pitt posted without Gibbs was a 67-55 home win over South Florida on Feb. 16. The final margin was deceiving since the Bulls were within two points with eight minutes left.The Panthers held a 26-9 edge in rebounds in the second half to finish with a 40-18 advantage. Nasir Robinson grabbed 10 boards and Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown each had seven.Those players also helped limit Bulls leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist to 10 points. Gilchrist, averaging 13.0 points, had a career-high 32 in Saturday's 86-76 win at DePaul that snapped a six-game skid."He is definitely a rhythm guy," coach Stan Heath said about Gilchrist. "He has the ability to score around the basket, face up and hit 3s. He's got a lot of firepower to his game, and our guys did a good job of finding him. They knew he was hot."Gilchrist was out with a sprained ankle in South Florida's 70-61 upset at home of Pitt last Jan. 31. Dominique Jones, currently with the Dallas Mavericks, scored 37 to lead the Bulls.South Florida has suffered without Jones, averaging a Big East-worst 62.3 points.The Bulls have dropped all nine games against ranked opponents this season, losing four at home by an average of 16.0 points.