for this game

Young, Fields carry Pitt to fifth straight victory

Feb 15, 2009 - 4:25 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Pittsburgh has made a habit recently of waiting until the second half to pull away. That trend remained true on Saturday afternoon.

The fourth-ranked Panthers used a brief surge midway through the second half to take control, pushing their winning streak to five games with an 85-69 triumph over Cincinnati.

The Bearcats were within five points with 13 minutes remaining, but Pittsburgh (23-2, 10-2 Big East) responded with a 9-0 run highlighted by a pair of dunks by Gilbert Brown and Sam Young. The spurt pushed the team's lead to 63-49 and Cincinnati (17-9, 7-6) couldn't pose much of a challenge for the remainder of the contest.

"I thought the crowd really got behind us and sparked us to pick up our play a little more," Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields said. "We were able to get some stops on defense, followed by some good looks which our shooters stepped up and knocked down."

Opponents have played the Panthers tough in recent outings, with Pittsburgh pulling away after halftime in victories over Notre Dame, DePaul and West Virginia. Cincinnati, which came in riding a three-game winning streak, made it close after falling behind by as many as 13 in the first half.

"We were down 11 at the half against the No. 3 or 4 ranked team in the nation," Cincinnati coach Mike Cronin said. "It's tough to dig out of a hole. Our goal was to try to hold them in the 60s."

Larry Davis and Mike Williams caught fire in the second half as the Bearcats cut their deficit to 54-49 on Williams' mid-range jumper. But they ultimately didn't have the firepower to keep up, as Pitt seized the momentum and cruised from there. Young led all players with 18 points, DeJuan Blair added 17 and Fields collected 11 and 13 assists.

"They have three players who are probably the best in the league at their positions," Cronin said. "Levance has proven that he can dominate when healthy. DeJuan has proven he can dominate. Sam has proven he can dominate. You don't have much margin for error against Pitt."

The Panthers built a comfortable cushion in the first half, as Brown's three-point play sparked a 13-6 run to open up a 39-26 advantage, but Cincinnati responded after the break. Williams scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the second half and Davis scored seven of his 13 after halftime.

"We just played our game tonight. It wasn't our best performance of the year, but it got the job done," Blair said. "Gilbert Brown really stepped up for us and provided us a spark off the bench. It seemed like everybody that got in the game today gave us energy and was able to contribute in a big way."

The Bearcats shot 52 percent (27-of-52), including 6-of-13 from 3-point range. But they had nothing on Pittsburgh, which connected at a 67-percent rate (31-of-46).

"I thought that was a great game offensively by both teams. Cincinnati's an NCAA Tournament team, in my opinion, and one that's going to play their way in," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "They've been very hot and playing very well of late, so it's good to get a win against them. I thought our defense could have been a little bit better, but give them a lot of credit."

After playing four of five games on their current winning streak at home, and all five against unranked opponents, the Panthers face a tough final stretch of the season. They have two meetings with top-ranked Connecticut, beginning with Monday's showdown in Hartford.

"We have to go beat a very good team on the road, which is always a challenge," Dixon said. "We're No. 1 in the RPI right now, though, so obviously we've been doing something right all year."

Pitt will also face No. 12 Marquette and closes the regular season at home with a rematch with the Huskies.