PITTSBURGH -- Leading by two points at home with eight minutes to play against a Big East bottom-feeder, former Pittsburgh guard and current assistant Brandin Knight ripped his team during a timeout.
When the Panthers took the floor, they took out their aggression on South Florida.
"We went into the huddle and Brandin Knight ... told us we weren't playing our hardest -- but he said it in different words," guard Travon Woodall said. "I just went out there and tried to make a hustle play."
Woodall sprinted back to alter a Shaun Noriega layup after a steal that would have tied the game at 46 with 7:41 to play. Gary McGhee converted a three-point play at the other end seconds later, and Wanamaker hit a 3-pointer after a USF turnover a half-minute later.
All of a sudden, the Panthers (24-2, 12-1) were off an running on 14-2 spurt that would ensure they would win for the 14th time in 15 games and take a two-game lead in the Big East.
"You never know what the turning point of a game is going to be," Bulls coach Stan Heath said. "You're going to miss a layup, that happens sometimes. He got challenged, and I think he got a little surprised. But that was a big swing. We missed out on those two right here, we didn't do a good job of having a couple guys back to protect our end and we ended up giving up a three-point play. I thought that five-point swing right there happened, and it didn't seem like we recovered."
The Bulls (8-19, 2-12) lost their fifth consecutive game and fell to 0-9 against ranked teams. Noriega had 11 points to lead the Bulls, who were blown out by Notre Dame in their most recent game Saturday but lost by nine points or less in 14 of their previous 17 defeats.
USF played close with the highest-ranked team they have played yet, a Pitt team it beat in Tampa last season.
USF went out to a 14-10 lead Wednesday and led for the final time at 16-14 with about 11 minutes left in the first half. The Panthers immediately went on a 16-4 run to take a 10-point lead and lead by as many as 13 before halftime.
But Noriega hit two 3s in the final minute of the first half, and the Bulls scored eight consecutive points early in the second half to pull within two.
"We were pumped," Noriega said. "We were energetic and ready to go out in the second half and get the W."
Playing without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs (left knee) for the third consecutive game, Pitt got at least nine points from five players in a game for the second time in that stretch in winning its fifth straight.
The Panthers held a 26-9 edge in rebounds in the second half.
"That's something coach definitely stressed at halftime," said McGhee, who had nine points and seven rebounds. "We had to come out and be more aggressive, myself and the rest of the guys on the glass. We pretty much pounded them in the second half."
Talib Zanna, who had scored a total of three points in the previous six games, scored eight Pitt points in a row midway through the first half. He had all 11 of his points at halftime -- the third-most of his career for a game.
Gilbert Brown also had 11 points for the Panthers.
"We're a very balanced team," Wanamaker said. "Everyone can step up and make plays, and that's what we showed tonight."
Gibbs is practicing with the team and could play in Pitt's next game, at St. John's on Saturday. He leads the Panthers in scoring (16.3 ppg), but where he has been missed most is from 3-point range. Pitt made only two 3-pointers after making only one in each of the first two games -- wins at West Virginia and Villanova -- without him. Gibbs averages more than three per game.
"He's a good shooter, and ... there's no free agent or no waiver wire pickup of a guy who does what he does," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Nobody had to change how they played; we just had to do what we do, and do it right.
Noriega's missed layup was the third straight possession in which USF could have tied the score. The Bulls were called for offensive fouls on each of the first two such possessions.