The Pitt-Connecticut series over the past decade has produced numerous highs and lows. Clockwise from upper left: Taleik Brown celebrates the Huskies' 2002 Big East title in double overtime; Connecticut's Ben Gordon; Pitt's Brandin Knight; Huskies coach Jim Calhoun; Gilbert Brown drives on Hasheem Thabeet; DeJuan Blair celebrates Pitt's second win last season; Brandin Knight and Donatas Zavackas celebrate the Panthers' first Big East title in 2003; Jamie Dixon; Donatas Zavackas after the 2002 title loss.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Picking a favorite Pitt-Connecticut game is kind of like asking Jamie Dixon to identify a favorite player.
There are so many of them that it's hard to choose.
There were the two epic contests last season, of course. The first game in Hartford, Conn., was a coming out party for DeJuan Blair, who cemented his All-American status by scoring 22 points and grabbing 23 rebounds against Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet. It was Pitt's first victory against a No.1-ranked team in school history.
The second game was at the Petersen Events Center, and again Connecticut held the top ranking. Sam Young scored 31 points to lead Pitt to the season sweep and a 19-0 record at home.
There was the time in 2005 when Chevy Troutman scored 29 points to lead Pitt to an unlikely come-from-behind victory against the Huskies in Storrs, Conn.
And who can forget Pitt's first Big East Conference tournament championship against the Huskies at Madison Square Garden in New York in '03? That game might have been one of the most important in school history.
Just about every Pitt-Connecticut game in the past decade has held deep meaning. They played three consecutive years from 2002-04 in the Big East tournament championship game. The game tonight at the XL Center in Hartford is the ninth time in the past 10 meetings that both teams are ranked in the top 25. Connecticut is No. 15; Pitt No. 16.
• Game: No. 16 Pitt (13-2, 3-0 Big East) vs. No. 15 Connecticut (11-4, 2-2), 7 p.m. today, XL Center, Hartford, Conn.
• Pitt: Has not played since winning at Cincinnati Jan. 4. ... The nine-day layoff was the longest of the season for the Panthers. ... Has won six in a row. ... Has won four consecutive road games and nine of the past 12 dating to last season. ... Led by sophomore G Ashton Gibbs (17.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg), junior G Brad Wanamaker (12.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and junior F Gilbert Brown (10.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
• Connecticut: Coming off 72-69 loss at Georgetown. ... Blew a 15-point halftime lead against the Hoyas. ... Other Big East loss came at Cincinnati. ... Is 10-0 at home. ... Led by senior G Jerome Dyson (19.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg), senior F Stanley Robinson (17.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and sophomore G Kemba Walker (12.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
• Hidden stat: Connecticut is first in the Big East in field-goal percentage defense (37.2 percent), but only 10th in scoring defense (65.0 ppg).
"No game has disappointed," Dixon said. "Every game has had a huge amount of hype and I don't think I ever come away thinking that it doesn't live up to it. That's rare, very rare. We have great respect for them and I believe they have great respect for us.
"We're the best two programs [in the Big East] over the last eight years. You throw all of those things in and you can see why. You can't pick a best game. Usually you can say this game was great or this game. You can go through every one and point to every one as being the best game. I tend to go with the ones we won."
Even the heartbreaking losses against the Huskies are worth recounting. The first Big East championship game between these two teams in '02 went to double overtime before the Huskies prevailed. The title game in '04 went down to the final seconds before the Huskies pulled out another close win.
In the regular-season home finale in '05, Pitt lost to Connecticut by nine. It remains the only time in his seven seasons as Pitt's head coach that Dixon was booed by the home crowd.
Since 2001, Pitt leads the series, 7-6. They have split the past 10 meetings. Not only has the series been competitive, but the Panthers and Huskies have more victories than any other team in the league in the past eight seasons. The margin between the two programs is razor-thin.
Pitt owns a slight edge with a 99-36 record in Big East play since '01. Connecticut is 98-38.
"I'd like to say playing anyone brings the best out in us, but Connecticut is a whole other atmosphere," Pitt junior Gilbert Brown said. "It's like Syracuse. The fans are loud. It's deafening. You can't hear anything. It's going to be an intense game."
Pitt's players know they are going to get Connecticut's best shot. When the Huskies visited the Petersen Events Center in March the Panthers denied them a regular-season Big East championship.
It also was the second loss in 19 days as a No.1-ranked team. The Panthers handed the Huskies both losses. The second loss had Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson in tears as he walked off the court.
"It will bring out the best in us because they'll try to get after us because we got them two times last year," Pitt junior Brad Wanamaker said. "That's on their mind. They want to get revenge on us."
"I know the returning players are looking for some satisfaction after last year," Brown added. "Hopefully, we can keep it up and continue our dominance against them."