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Grit and depth carry Panthers past Bulls

The No. 10 Panthers will settle for adjectives such as gritty, tough and rugged if they keep leading to wins, as they did Sunday against USF.

By COLIN DUNLAP Special to the Times
Published January 8, 2007


PITTSBURGH - Style points?

Well, Pitt doesn't need them.

The No. 10 Panthers will settle for adjectives such as gritty, tough and rugged if they keep leading to wins, as they did Sunday against USF.

Playing in its signature manner that has elevated the program to one of the Big East's elite, Pitt (14-2, 2-0) won 69-48 at Petersen Events Center in front of 11,675. The loss was the fifth in seven games for USF (9-7, 0-2), which is 1-17 in Big East play since moving from Conference USA last season.

"They are a deep team and they are rock solid on both ends," said center Kentrell Gransberry, who led the Bulls with 14 points and nine rebounds. "My hat is off to Pittsburgh. They seemed like they did things exactly how they wanted and executed on offense, but they also took away what we wanted to do when they were on defense. ... They did what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it."

The Bulls got 12 points from guard Jesus Verdejo and 10 from forward Melvin Buckley. The rest of the team accounted for just 12 points.

Pitt, meanwhile, had nine playing 17 minutes or more, with only one, guard Levance Fields, in double digits with 11 points.

USF stymied center Aaron Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year. In foul trouble, the 7-foot, 270-pound Gray scored just seven in 20 minutes, with three on free throws.

Pitt needed production from some of its other cogs and got it. Mike Cook, Antonio Graves and Ronald Ramon scored nine. Keith Benjamin and Sam Young came off the bench to score seven.

"We knew their depth was one of their strengths," said USF coach Robert McCullum, whose bench was outscored 28-2. "They have a lot of pieces and they have all the pieces that it takes to certainly make a run well into March and April. ... Unfortunately for us, there was little if any dropoff (when Pitt went to the bench). That is the sign of a good team."

As is realizing an opportunity and grabbing it, much the way Pitt did in the first half.

The pivotal stretch was the final six minutes, as it turned a 16-15 advantage into a 26-15 lead then a 28-20 halftime margin.

The Panthers totaled just eight turnovers and shot nearly 54 percent in the second half as the Bulls never got closer than 15 over the final 20 minutes.