Pittsburgh controls Vermont early to remain unbeaten

PITTSBURGH -- With Pitt's non-conference schedule beginning to wind down, coach Jamie Dixon challenged the Panthers to improve on what already is their strength: A defense that allows few uncontested shots and rebounds better than most teams in the country.

Vermont doesn't want to see how much better Pitt might be when it opens Big East play later this month.

Sam Young scored 28 points and No. 3 Pittsburgh held Vermont scoreless for more than four minutes at the start while opening a 13-point lead and eased to an 80-51 victory Saturday night to remain unbeaten.

DeJuan Blair helped Pitt (9-0) quickly establish control inside and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds in 23 minutes. Tyrell Biggs added 10 points as Dixon took advantage of his team's big leads to spread playing time among 11 players by early in the second half, with freshman Ashton Gibbs scoring 11 points in only 15 minutes.

Young had nine rebounds as Pitt held a 59-41 edge, including a 24-14 advantage in offensive rebounds.

"Coach told us it's time to test where our defense is to get us ready for the great teams," Young said, referring to a Big East Conference that has eight of this week's Top 25 teams.

The Panthers responded by leading led 13-0, 20-5 and 33-15 before making it 41-19 at the half on Biggs' 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer. The Catamounts shot 27.4 percent (17-of-62), well off the 50 percent of their first six games.

"We challenged our guys to have our best defensive performance and I think we did that," Dixon said. "The first half, we were very good."

Vermont (4-3) had won two of its four most recent games against ranked teams dating to an upset of Syracuse in the NCAA tournament in March 2005, but the Panthers were too strong and physical inside -- just as they have been while winning their first nine games by an average of 21.6 points.

Their smallest margin of victory while playing a schedule that has not included any ranked opponents is 13 points (80-67) against Texas Tech.

Pitt, which doesn't play again until next Saturday, is 9-0 for the seventh straight season. The Panthers opened at least 10-0 in each of Dixon's first five seasons.

"Pitt is much more physical and we didn't compete at all," Vermont coach Mike Lonergan said. "I hope this will toughen our team up, but the first half we did not compete well. We really struggled."

Vermont's tallest starter, 6-foot-8 Colin McIntosh, was lifted after drawing his second foul 1:31 into the game, giving the Panthers an even greater advantage inside. After that, 21 of Pitt's next 23 points came from inside players.

McIntosh, who came in averaging 14.7 points, fouled out with 4:07 remaining after being held to four points. Marqus Blakely led the Catamounts with 19 points and Joey Accaoui added 10.

"That set the tone for us," Lonergan said of McIntosh's early foul problems. "Pitt is definitely one of the top three teams in the country, but I think we're a better team than this. We missed a lot of open shots. Their 24 offensive rebounds? That's ridiculous. His [Blair's] rebounding is something we had no answer for."

The 6-7 Blair had double figures in points and rebounds for the sixth time in nine games and is averaging 13.2 points and 11.9 rebounds.

Young, who jumped his scoring average by nearly nine points per game from his sophomore to junior seasons, is averaging 24.6 points over his last four games and 20.8 for the season -- up from 18.1 last season.

"I hope I can keep this up all season," Young said.

Young has scored 20 or more five times.

"Sam gets his points in the flow of the game," Biggs said. "When he's hot, he's hot, and he was hot tonight."

Pitt won its 35th straight at home against a non-Big East opponent.