Pitt wins battle of top-10 league foes
Huskies shoot just 32 percent from field while Walker scores 31
The Associated Press
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PITTSBURGH -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun warned his players what they would experience at Pitt. The never-let-up defensive pressure. A very loud crowd that's only a few feet off the court and tries to intimidate unsuspecting teams.
No, this isn't Hartford or Storrs or even Maui, and now the Huskies know what their coach was talking about.
Ashton Gibbs scored 21 points as Pittsburgh's balance overcame Kemba Walker's one-man offense for No. 4 Connecticut, and the No. 6 Panthers easily won the Big East's first matchup of top-10 teams 78-63 on Monday night.
Walker scored 31 points, but missed 17-of-27 shots as Pittsburgh repeatedly limited the Huskies to a single shot in a possession - often a bad one. They shot 31.7 percent, 19 of 60, and had only two scorers with more than five points until the closing minutes in the conference opener.
``They came to play, they wanted it and they got it,'' a worn-out Walker said. ``They made me work for every basket. It was a tough night for me. ... Their game plan was great and they stayed with it.''
Or just how the Panthers planned it.
``Our transition defense was good and we really emphasized it,'' coach Jamie Dixon said. ``We wanted to force them to take tough shots and we did that for the most part.''
Brad Wanamaker, who took turns with Gibbs shadowing one of the nation's leading scorers, added 14 points as Pittsburgh (13-1) beat Connecticut (10-1) for the fourth consecutive time and the fifth in six games.
Gary McGhee had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Nasir Robinson, making his first start of the season, helped out with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Pitt, which shot 52.1 percent.
``We let the game come to us,'' Gibbs said. ``We took our time and get baskets because of it.''
Pitt's experience made a difference as only three players in UConn's rotation had played before at the Petersen Events Center, where the Panthers are 8-0 against top-five teams and 142-11 overall.
``It's great to get a win against a great team,'' Wanamaker said. ``It shows where we're at.''
The Huskies also played their first road game, and it showed. They had trouble solving Pitt's man-to-man defense, which repeatedly forced them into taking hurried or low-percentage shots after the shot clock had wound down to a few seconds.
``They locked us up defensively,'' Calhoun said. ``We didn't react well to being legally, physically handled defensively. They weren't allowing us to get good shots and we took some ill-advised ones.''
Connecticut, unranked before the season began before surging through the ratings after beating Michigan State and Kentucky in the Maui tournament, has lost five of its last six conference openers.
The Huskies fell behind by 10 points in the first half, trailed by as many as 17 and never took a determined run despite Walker's wide variety of baskets, nearly all of them heavily defended.
Walker, most effective when driving the lane against Pitt's taller but slower defenders, scored at least 20 points for the 10th consecutive game and 30 or more for the fifth time. But the Huskies had no other player in double figures as Walker scored more than half (10) of their 19 baskets.
The eight Connecticut players other than Walker who took shots missed 24 of 33.
Alex Oriakhi, averaging 11.3 points, wasn't a factor with eight points and one rebound.
``I don't know if he was better sitting or playing,'' Calhoun said. ``He's not the player right now I think he can be.''
Pitt, wearing gold uniforms and cheered on by a standing-room crowd of 12,725 that was urged to also wear the color, surged to early leads of 8-2 and 16-7 and never led by fewer than six points the rest of the first half.
Dixon kept rotating defenders against Walker, who missed nine of his first 12 shots - 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
Pitt came in outrebounding its opponents by an average of 16 per game, only to have UConn hold a 36-33 advantage. It made no difference as UConn missed 23 of its first 33 shots, including nine of 11 from 3-point range.
Pitt is 4-3 against UConn when each team was in the top 10, but UConn still leads 7-6 when both were nationally ranked. Calhoun is 1-5 at Pitt's on-campus arena.