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Long-range shooting, balanced scoring help Pitt roll

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- This might not be the best Pitt team since the Panthers returned to being a Big East power six years ago. Or the most stylish. It might be the deepest.

Pittsburgh overcame another ineffective game by star Aaron Gray, turning to a smaller unit to open an 11-point lead over South Florida in the first half, and the No. 10 Panthers were never pushed after that in a 69-48 victory Sunday.

The 7-foot Gray, the Big East preseason player of the year, scored in single figures for the fourth game in a row -- he had seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in only 20 minutes. Also, 6-10 power forward Levon Kendall was held to five points by the smaller Bulls.

"If somebody wants to take away a big guy, put two or three guys on him ... you're going to give up something else," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

That lack of inside scoring hardly mattered as the Panthers (14-2, 2-0 in Big East) turned to their backcourt not only for scoring but strong defense.

"When they double-team the big guys, we know it's going to open up shots for us," Ronald Ramon said. "Aaron's a smart player and he sees the double team coming. The way he passes the ball, that's going to open up guys on the perimeter."

Pitt led 16-15 before going on a 10-0 run late in the first half with Gray and Kendall on the bench. Antonio Graves hit a 3-pointer and scored on a driving layup and backup guard Ramon followed with a 3-pointer to make it 26-15.

"Once those guys left, it was unfortunate for us," South Florida coach Robert McCullum said of Gray and Kendall. "Their depth makes them one of the best teams in the country. Maybe they're not the prettiest -- they won't get a lot of style points -- but they're one of the best teams."

The Panthers, playing the Bulls (9-7, 0-2) for the first time in the Big East, limited South Florida to four points in the first 8½ minutes of the second half while opening a 42-26 lead. Pitt went on an 8-0 run during that stretch, with Sam Young making three free throws.

"I feel comfortable with all of our guys," Dixon said of his nine-man rotation. "We got a lot of good efforts from a number of guys."

Pitt came into the game shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, only to make 10-of-16 (63 percent) with Levance Fields going 3-of-4 and Ramon 3-of-5. Fields was Pitt's only double-figure scorer with 11 points, his seventh consecutive double-figure game, but the balanced Panthers had seven players with seven or more points. Fields replaced three-year starting point guard Carl Krauser this season.

"Depth is one of the strengths they have," McCullum said. "They could take a run well into March -- or April."

Kentrell Gransberry had 14 and Jesus Verdejo added 12 for South Florida, but leading scorer Melvin Buckley was held nearly seven points below his average with 10.

Gray, playing with defenders constantly in front of and behind him, has been limited to 26 points in his last four games after averaging 20 over three games before that. All that attention on Gray is allowing the guards to take open 3-pointers and enjoy more room to operate on the offensive end, as evidenced by point guard Fields' 24 points in a 74-66 decision at Syracuse on Thursday.

"We're getting better shots," Pitt guard Mike Cook said. "We came out and talked about getting guys open and we did that."

Pitt is 10-0 at home this season. South Florida is 1-17 in Big East play since moving from Conference USA last season.