By JORDAN GARRETSON
(AP) -- Pittsburgh's last game against Cincinnati resulted in a loss that keyed a poor start in Big East play.
But the 23rd-ranked Panthers have since won six of seven and are again jockeying for one of the conference's top spots.
Pittsburgh looks for some revenge Saturday at Fifth Third Arena, where the No. 17 Bearcats will be happy to return for the opener of a three-game homestand after playing five of seven on the road.
These teams are No. 1 and 2 in the Big East in rebounding margin, with Pittsburgh's plus-8.5 mark and Cincinnati's plus-8.3 also among the best in the country.
But the Panthers (19-5, 7-4) didn't resemble a top-flight team on the boards during the beginning of the conference slate. Ranked 24th at the time, Pitt was outscored 44-27 in the second half en route to a 70-61 home loss to then-No. 14 Cincinnati on New Year's Eve, ending an eight-game winning streak.
Coach Jamie Dixon's club dropped two of its next three as well, looking as though it might be on its way to a second straight season without a trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Panthers' defense and rebounding have both improved immensely since, and they already have two more conference wins than they did in 2011-12. They're allowing 55.4 points per game on 37.9 percent shooting in the last seven games after giving up 64.0 per game on 44.1 percent shooting in the first four league contests.
Pittsburgh is also outrebounding teams by 10.9 over the last seven after a minus-3.7 margin in the first four. A win Saturday would mark the team's 12th consecutive 20-win campaign.
"The rebounding has improved, there's no question about it," Dixon said. "I think our defense has improved too. We've got to win with that."
After an impressive 10-point win over then-No. 6 Syracuse last Saturday, Pittsburgh shot a season-low 34.8 percent Monday against Seton Hall, instead relying on that defense to limit the Pirates to a 33.3 percent clip and a season-low scoring output in a 56-46 victory.
"You've got to find different ways," Dixon said. "We're not going to win every game the same way."
The Bearcats (18-5, 6-4) have only been outrebounded three times this season, though they've split their last four games despite winning the battle of the boards each time. Their five losses are by a combined 14 points. .
Shooting woes have plagued Cincinnati lately. It's shot under 38.0 percent in five straight games, and made just 18 field goals for the fourth straight game in Wednesday's 54-50 loss at Providence.
The Bearcats used a 14-2 run to trim the Friars' lead to 49-48 with 2:28 left, but missed four of their last five shots from the floor.
"We started off sluggish," said Sean Kilpatrick, who is the Big East's third-leading scorer at 18.3 points per game but was held to 13 while missing seven of eight 3-point attempts. "Then we got in scoring droughts and dug a deeper hole. We could have played 10 times better."
Kilpatrick combined with fellow guards Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker to score 47 points in Cincinnati's earlier win against Pittsburgh. The Panthers were led by 16 from Talib Zanna and 13 from Lamar Patterson.
Lately, Pitt is getting a boost from freshman center Steven Adams, who has averaged 8.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in his last four games. Adams was held scoreless against the Bearcats in December.
Pittsburgh had won five straight in the series before dropping the last two.
Updated February 8, 2013