Posted March 20, 2014 04:02 pm - Updated March 21, 2014 01:45 am

If Gators advance, Pitt figures to be stiff challenge


ORLANDO – It appears No. 1-ranked Florida, now that it avoided the embarrassment of losing to No. 16-seeded Albany, will have a significant hurdle to reach the second week of the NCAA tournament.

The Pittsburgh Panthers’ team that started the season 16-1, then lost a ton of close games to the likes of Syracuse and Virginia in the homestretch, found a perfect matchup to start fresh again Thursday in the NCAA South regional.

Colorado might have been a higher seed, but the Buffaloes had no answer for anything Pitt threw at them Thursday at the Amway Center. The Panthers, led by senior forwards Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, scored the game’s first 13 points and went on to rout Colorado 77-48

Pitt (26-9, 11-7 in ACC) put things on cruise control after grabbing a 46-18 halftime lead, allowing coach Jamie Dixon to play none of his starters more than 30 minutes. The 6-foot-9 Zanna led all scorers with 18 points and played only 26 minutes.

If the Panthers continue the same stingy defense that took down Colorado, which finished tied for third in the Pac-12, Florida and its senior-dominated lineup could see its dream season come to an agonizing end on Saturday (12:15 p.m.).

Just keep this stat in mind about Pitt: the Panthers are 0-6 this season against RPI Top 25 teams.