TAMPA — Pittsburgh came in red-hot, winners of four straight, and USF was coming off a 30-point loss at Georgetown. But you never would have known it from the two teams playing at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday night.
The Bulls played stellar defense, led by senior guard Hugh Robertson, who shut down Pitt star Ashton Gibbs and scored a season-high 18 in a convincing 63-51 win before an announced crowd of 4,507.
"The defense was outstanding," coach Stan Heath said. "I'd like to bottle that and take that everywhere we go the rest of the year if we could. Hugh Robertson did a fantastic job on a great player in Gibbs, and at the same time, offensively, he stayed in attack mode, very aggressive."
USF (14-10, 7-4 Big East), which improved to 12-1 at home, continues to build its resume for postseason play, and Robertson was a big part of that. He was 7-for-7 from the field (the best mark by a Bulls player in a Big East game), hit all four of his free throws and held Gibbs — the conference's preseason player of the year — to four points, his fewest in nearly two years.
"It was a team effort … that's the bulk of our team, our defense," said Robertson, who is routinely assigned to the opponent's top scorer. "It's my job, to play defense, to try to take the best player out of the game. It's what I tried to do" Wednesday.
USF got a 3-pointer from Jawanza Poland at the halftime buzzer for a 27-23 lead, but it was a 14-4 run midway through the second half that gave the Bulls a 49-35 lead with eight minutes left. During that run, USF held Pittsburgh (15-10, 4-8) to one field goal and four turnovers in 10 possessions, frustrating the Panthers with the defensive persistence.
"I think they frustrated all of us," Panthers point guard Tray Woodall said. "We just didn't get any great looks at the end of the game. … I've got to do a better job of getting guys easier shots, to get us back in our offense."
Pittsburgh cut USF's lead to eight with 2:48 to play, but freshman point guard Anthony Collins answered with a jumper and two free throws in a span of 14 seconds.
The Bulls shot 60.5 percent from the field, a school record in Big East play.
"It was a battle of patience, and they clearly won that," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We're extremely disappointed, because we haven't been playing like this."
USF has two seemingly winnable games in the next week, Saturday at Providence (2-10 Big East) and home against Villanova (4-8) on Wednesday, with a rematch at Pittsburgh on Feb. 19.