|Cincinnati's Dion Dixon, right, lays the ball past Cameron Wright as he defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012 , in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)|
Surging Cincinnati drops No. 22 Pittsburgh 66-63
PITTSBURGH—JaQuon Parker scored a career-high 21 points and Sean Kilpatrick added 19 as streaking Cincinnati beat No. 22 Pittsburgh 66-63 on Sunday night.
The Bearcats (11-3, 1-0 Big East) have won six straight games since a brawl against crosstown rival Xavier last month led to the suspension of several players, including star forward Yancy Gates.
Cincinnati forced the reeling Panthers (11-4, 0-2) into 17 turnovers to win at Pitt for the first time in 33 years.
Nasir Robinson had 19 points and Ashton Gibbs added 18 for the Panthers, who lost their third straight game.
Cincinnati took the lead for good early in the second half then held on. Pitt had several chances tie it in the final 30 seconds but couldn't find the mark. The Panthers made just 5 of 19 3-point attempts.
The Bearcats had no such issues from behind the arc. With Parker and Kilpatrick firing early and often, Cincinnati went 11 of 27 from 3-point range to overcome a significant size disadvantage and continue a remarkable turnaround.
Coach Mick Cronin has reinvented his team after slapping Gates with a six-game suspension for punching out a Xavier player at the end of an ugly 76-53 loss on Dec. 10. His best big man gone, Cronin went with a guard-heavy lineup and his team has eagerly responded to the freewheeling, "let it fly" approach.
Cincinnati never backed down against the suddenly vulnerable Panthers. The Bearcats didn't panic after getting down by eight points early. Instead they kept shooting, kept getting their hands in passing lanes and kept frustrating Pitt by hitting big shot after big shot.
A 3-pointer by Dion Dixon gave Cincinnati a 66-59 lead with 3 minutes to go and Cincinnati dug in defensively to overcome a couple of costly missed free throws.
Pitt drew within three on two free throws by John Johnson with 40 seconds to play but couldn't take advantage after Parker and Kilpatrick clanked the front end of two 1-and-1s.
Johnson was called for an offensive foul to end one possession. Gibbs missed a 3-pointer on Pitt's next trip but the Panthers got the rebound and called time out with 2.4 seconds remaining. Lamar Patterson's 3-pointer from the top of the key wasn't close and the surging Bearcats poured off the bench in celebration.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have gone in the opposite direction. Picked to finish fourth in the crowded Big East, Pitt has struggled searching for an identity. The team's normally tenacious defense has only been so-so and a lingering groin and abdominal injury to point guard Tray Woodall has forced Gibbs to do the majority of the ballhandling, with mixed results.
How bad are things going for the Panthers? They're even vulnerable at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt started the season with a 56-game home winning streak but has lost at the Pete three times in the last six weeks.
Long Beach State raced by Pitt on Nov. 16, then Wagner stunned the Panthers two days before Christmas.
Missing Woodall hasn't helped. The junior played for the first time in nearly a month in a 72-59 loss to Notre Dame last week but didn't even dress against the Bearcats due to lingering groin and abdominal injuries.
The Panthers could certainly use him, particularly after Cincinnati spent 40 minutes harassing Pitt into sloppy mistake after sloppy mistake.