PITTSBURGH — Let the bubble talk continue. In fact, chat it up now.
USF's improbable surge to its first NCAA Tournament bid in 20 years took another step Sunday night.
Freshman guard Anthony Collins scored a career-high 22 on 8-of-10 shooting and added six assists and two steals as the Bulls handcuffed Pittsburgh 56-47, their season-high fourth victory in a row.
"I know USF isn't a sexy name around the country, but 10 wins in this conference is 10 wins in this conference," USF coach Stan Heath said. "That's a hell of a deal. We should be in a big discussion nationally for what our guys are doing."
USF (17-10, 10-4 Big East) posted its most victories in a season in the conference and tied a school record with its fourth conference road win, matching Heath's 2009-10 team, which won nine league games overall.
"We're trying to build a tradition at our school," Heath said. "We're motivated. There's still a lot more work to do."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose team has lost four in a row and 12 of the past 16, praised USF's season. "That's a team that's made great strides this year," he said. "Their patience and defensive mentality has really turned them around."
Despite Pitt's uncharacteristic slide — the Panthers (15-13, 4-11) are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years — Heath revered its long-standing basketball mystique.
"To come to Pittsburgh and win is very unusual," he said of the Bulls' first win at the Petersen Events Center.
But that's exactly what USF did, and in convincing fashion. The Bulls outrebounded the Panthers 36-30, with Ron Anderson grabbing nine, and held them to 34.6 percent shooting.
Collins, though, seemed oblivious to it all, despite a crowd of 9,849.
"I just play basketball," he said. "I don't worry about the road or focus on the crowd."
Dixon said USF is playing like an NCAA Tournament team.
"I know their nonconference may hold them back in some people's eyes, but that's in November and December," he said. "They're a different team now. They seem to be playing their best basketball."
USF held Pitt senior guard Ashton Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the year, to a season-low two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Gibbs had four points in USF's 63-51 win on Feb. 8.
The Bulls clung to a 28-27 halftime lead then scored the first eight of the second half, five by Collins, to go up 36-27.
Pitt closed within 42-39 on a dunk by J.J. Moore, who led Pitt with 21 points, before Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's 3 ignited the Bulls' knockout punch that carried them to a 56-41 lead with 1:15 left.