Pitt Bounces South Florida, 67-55

By on February 18, 2011

By: Larry D. Lieberman (RSE-USF Correspondent)

Pittsburgh, Pa. – (RSE) Playing for the third straight time without junior guard Ashton Gibbs, who is their lone 3-point threat and leading scorer, the Pittsburgh Panthers (24-2, 12-1 Big East) knew that dominating the paint was plan A for victory procurement. And, fortunately for them, they came into Wednesday night’s action as the nation’s leader in rebounding margin.

Better yet, they had the light-scoring South Florida Bulls (8-19, 2-12) on the opposing bench.

In front of 12,519 fans at the Petersen Events Center, the AP #4 Panthers managed to fulfill their primary objective by doubling-down the Bulls in rebounding by a margin of 35-17. On numerous occasions, the Panthers’ front court flexed their muscles by backing USF defenders under the hoop and dunking over them. Even freshman Talib Zanna, a reserve forward who totaled just 5 points over the last 7 games, managed to drop 11 points from the low post position.

The final score was 67-55 in favor of Pitt but, a bit surprisingly, the Bulls put up a decent battle in making the Panthers earn their 12-1 start to The Big East season – a program best.

Having gained some steam on sophomore Shaun Noriega’s back-to-back 3-point missiles just before the half – coupled with the surreptitious implementation of a 2-2-1 zone – the Bulls found themselves in position to draw some bold ink on the game’s headlines at the 9:56 mark of the second half. Senior Jarrid Famous had just made a pair of free throws to cap a 12-minute stretch of turnover-free basketball which had drawn South Florida to within 45-44.

The master plan was seemingly coming together for Bulls Coach Stan Heath, who tinkered tirelessly with his lineup all night in a desperate “close your eyes and swing hard” attempt to reward effort disproportionately to reputation.

Then, it all fell apart a la “Groundhog Day.” (Members of The Associated Press: No change in font necessary.)

Noriega made a nifty steal but missed a hard-charging lay-up which, in retrospect, would have been okay with Coach Heath had three Bulls players not failed to grab the rebound from Nasir Robinson – the only Panther on the scene.

That piece of infamy was exacerbated by a subsequent avalanche of 4 USF turnovers and a drought of no field goals in 7-plus minutes and no points whatsoever in over 5. South Florida sophomore stand-out Jawanza Poland (who was swiped from the court several times by Heath and held scoreless in points and rebounds), was a key cog in the stretch of surrender by tossing up 2 wild misses from close range.

The result was a 13-2 run by Pittsburgh and a lurid reminder that South Florida must click on every cylinder to compete in The Big East, America’s most unforgiving house of basketball terror.

For Pitt, it was a ho-hum night statistically. Their biggest lead came in the waning minutes at 63-47, following the Bulls’ collapse. Robinson and Brad Wanamaker each had 13 points and Robinson squeezed a game-high 10 rebounds to be sure his name would be honorably mentioned.

South Florida was led by Noriega’s encouraging 11 points and 10 apiece from Augustus Gilchrist and Famous.

The Bulls, including Poland, are better than this and Heath knows it. That said, it takes time to build chemistry in a unit which assembles its top-line talent from the junior college ranks.

The Bulls have 4 JUCO transfers … and no Dominique Jones to balance them out any longer.

South Florida returns to action against #9 Georgetown on Saturday at The Sun Dome in Tampa. Famous, Poland and the gang will need to do a better job of corralling rebounds and avoiding mental miscues if they are to compete against the Hoyas. Tip time is 7 PM and kids 17-and-under are free at The Sun Dome as always.

Pittsburgh comes to Tampa on March 2nd for a rematch. The Panthers are undefeated on the road in Big East play and will be seeking to avenge their loss in Tampa last year.

For further analysis of South Florida athletics – plus Lightning, Rays, Bucs and golf coverage – tune into Rocket Sports radio on ESPN Tampa Bay 1040 AM every Saturday from 10 AM to noon. A radio stream – as well as time-sensitive content and features across sports genres – is also accessible at rocketsports-ent.com.

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