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11-0 run in second half buoys Panthers

2/15/2004

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Connecticut, accustomed to doing the pushing
and shoving in the Big East, was in the unfamiliar position of
being on the receiving end of the punishment.

That didn't deter Huskies coach Jim Calhoun from hoping for a
rematch against Pittsburgh's roughhouse Panthers.

Jaron Brown led a decisive second-half surge with his scoring
and physical play and No. 4 Pittsburgh relied on its depth and
strength to stay in the Big East lead, beating No. 5 Connecticut
75-68 Sunday.

The Panthers (23-2, 9-2) extended their homecourt winning streak
to 40 games -- the longest in Division I. Pitt is 18-0 at home this
season and 34-0 since the Petersen Events Center opened last
season.

Brown scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, four during
a pivotal 11-0 run that started just before UConn star Emeka Okafor
drew his fourth foul with 9:19 remaining. Okafor, averaging 19.6
points, had only four of his 16 points in the second half.

"They played great, physical defense," Calhoun said. "In the
second half, they were able to take us out of our (transition)
offense. They were able to do maybe the best job of anybody on
Emeka, but he didn't respond the way he usually responds."

The 6-foot-10 Okafor sat out about 4 minutes -- a stretch that
saw Pitt take its biggest lead, 58-43. The Panthers constantly
rotated defenders against Okafor, with Chevon Troutman, Chris Taft,
6-10 Toree Morris, 6-10 Aaron Gray and 6-10 Mark McCarroll all
lining up against him at various times.

Once Okafor came back, Pitt held off the Huskies with some
uncommonly accurate free throw shooting. The Panthers, only 11th
among the 14 Big East teams at the foul line, finished 24-of-33 to
UConn's 9-of-19.

McCarroll had 15 points, Carl Krauser added 13 and Julius Page
11 for Pitt, which opened leads of as many as 15 points to avoid
its first two-game losing streak since early January 2002. The
Panthers were coming off a double-overtime loss at Seton Hall.

"We had good players and a lot of them ... and there's no panic
when those guys (the reserves) are on the floor," said Pitt coach
Jamie Dixon, who got contributions from all five players he brought
off his bench.

Ben Gordon scored 23 points and had two late 3-pointers as UConn
closed within six points in the final minute, but the Huskies
(19-5, 7-3) still lost consecutive games for the first time this
season to fall 1½ games behind Pitt for the Big East lead. UConn is
5-4 since starting 14-1, including Monday's loss at Notre Dame.

That's partly why Page is getting tired of hearing how UConn,
the preseason No. 1 team, has better talent and depth than Pitt,
which won the Big East tournament last season and is 80-13 over the
last three seasons.

"I don't see a big difference in the players they have and the
players we have," Page said. "That's just my personal opinion. In
my opinion, we're as good as anybody in the country."

Calhoun wouldn't dispute that, saying, "They're the best team
in our league right now. Given all the right circumstances, given
the right bracket and the right teams, they could win a national
championship."

It also didn't help UConn that forward Denham Brown fouled out
with eight points. He scored 20 in the Huskies' 68-65 victory over
Pitt last month.

Still, Calhoun said, "I'd love to see Pitt again on a Saturday
night," a reference to the Big East tournament championship game
next month. UConn and Pitt split the last two finals.

Sunday's matchup was the first between Top 5 teams ever at Pitt.
One vendor printed up T-shirts for the occasion, labeled
"Retaliation," a reference to UConn's victory on Jan. 19 that
ended Pitt's season-opening 18-game winning streak.

Calhoun learned before the game that he was a finalist for the
Basketball Hall of Fame, but that didn't prevent him from drawing a
technical foul only 1:18 into the game -- apparently because he felt
Pitt was trying to establish its physical style right from the
start. Pitt took a 9-2 lead and never trailed, helped by
McCarroll's big first half.

McCarroll played little last season when Ben Howland was Pitt's
coach, but has played a more important role under Dixon. He had a
career-high 26 points against Georgia and had 15 points off the
bench in Pitt's 66-45 victory at Syracuse last month.

McCarroll had all seven points -- a 3-pointer, a dunk and a
putback -- as Pitt upped its lead to 21-11 midway through the half.

Pitt won for only the ninth time in 52 games in its history
against Top 5 teams, but is 4-4 since 1996.