Pitt forward Gerald Jordan talks to Duquesne guard Mike James following the 1996 City Game at the Civic Arena. Pitt won, 75-73.
By Ray Fittipaldo and Colin Dunlap Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Hundreds of college basketball games have been played at Mellon Arena. From NCAA tournament games to epic Big East contests to the old Steel Bowl tournaments, famous names and famous games have written a storied history for the aging relic that will close its doors next year.
Hall of Fame coaches John Wooden and John Thompson paced the sidelines there a few months before leading their teams to national championships in 1970 and '84, respectively. Dean Smith brought his North Carolina Tar Heels in for a game in December 1993, eight months after winning a national title.
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• Pitt: Coming off 72-56 victory against Youngstown State. ... Led by sophomore G Ashton Gibbs (15.0 ppg), junior G Brad Wanamaker (11.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg), sophomore F Nasir Robinson (9.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and freshman G Travon Woodall (9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg). ... Coach Jamie Dixon is 6-0 against Duquesne. ... Dixon is 78-5 all time against non-conference opponents.
• Duquesne: Coming off 71-63 victory against Radford. ... Led by junior G/F Bill Clark (18.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), junior F Damian Saunders (16.7 ppg, 15.5 rpg) and sophomore G/F B.J. Monteiro (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg). ... Shooting 27.8 percent from 3-point range. ... Only one player who has taken more than one 3-pointer is shooting better than 31 percent from behind the arc -- Monteiro (44 percent).
• Of note: Pitt has won eight consecutive games in the series. The series' longest winning streak is nine (Pitt, 1982-88.
Other coaching greats, such as Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun, also brought teams there. Playing greats John Havlicek, Patrick Ewing, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse graced the floor with their presence.
But the two college basketball teams most associated with Mellon Arena are Pitt and Duquesne. They played in the first college basketball games at the arena Dec. 6, 1961, a few months after it opened as the Civic Arena. And tonight, almost a half-century later, they will play the final college basketball game there in the 78th renewal of the City Game rivalry.
This will be the 355th game at Mellon Arena for Duquesne, which called the Igloo home from 1964-88. Pitt will be playing its 113th game there. This will be the 35th meeting between the two schools inside the arena, and taking part holds special significance for the coaches and players.
Duquesne coach Ron Everhart will be coaching his first game at Mellon Arena, but he grew up on college basketball inside the building as a youngster from Fairmont, W.Va.
"I remember my dad bringing us up here, it was in the early '70s," Everhart said. "Mickey Davis was on the team and Jarrett Durham was on the team, and I remember coming up another time and seeing Billy Zopf as the point guard."
It was Zopf, more than any other player, who left a lasting impression on Everhart.
"I remember going back home and talking about Billy Zopf after seeing him at the Civic Arena," Everhart said. "All the guys who were from back home were talking about UCLA's guards and Notre Dame's guards, and I was telling these kids in West Virginia, 'Billy Zopf is the man, this guy can fly, I just saw him at the [Civic] Arena, and this lefty is the man, he can play.'"
For the 10-year-old Everhart, the Eastern Eight Conference was about as big as it got. The league's charter members were Pitt, Duquesne, Penn State, Villanova, Rutgers, George Washington, Massachusetts and West Virginia -- Everhart's home team.
The conference held its tournament at the Civic Arena.
"I followed the Eastern Eight, my family was WVU people, most of them went to school there," Everhart said. "My uncle Ronnie Retton played with Jerry West, so there was a cultivated allegiance to the Eastern Eight in my life and that meant a cultivated allegiance to the Civic Arena, because that building meant a whole lot to that league."
The world's first major indoor sports stadium with a retractable roof sits a few blocks from Everhart's office and is a place Everhart will cherish, even after it is gone.
"Every time I walk in there, it brings back memories," he said. "Even the smell over there, the popcorn and the hot dogs, there's no other place like it. That place has a distinct smell, a distinct feel that you just don't get in other arenas. It brings back great memories, just being in the place.
"For me, having the ability to be part of the last game there is truly an honor. I am going to remember something like this the rest of my life, just like every one of those games I saw in there growing up."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who grew up in Hollywood, does not have those types of intimate memories, but he has come to embrace the local history of the arena. Dixon coached in the building a few times as Ben Howland's assistant, including the previous college basketball game played there in the 2002 NCAA tournament and Pitt's most recent loss to Duquesne in the series -- in 2000.
"My history doesn't go as far back as some, as far as the basketball goes, but I've been there for so many other different events and games and concerts," Dixon said. "It's got a special place in the hearts of a number of different people here. It's good to be a part of it, to say we're playing in the final game. I'm glad that we're doing it."
For Pitt players, the game offers the unique opportunity to close two historic Pennsylvania sports landmarks in less than a year. In January, Pitt and Villanova played the final college basketball game at Philadelphia's Spectrum.
An enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a walk down memory lane and watched the Wildcats beat the Panthers, but the experience did not sour anybody from Pitt who took part. They embraced the opportunity to be a part of a special occasion, and have the same outlook for the contest tonight with the Dukes.
"That's something great to be a part of," said Pitt junior Brad Wanamaker, who is a Philadelphia native. "I go back to Philly all the time and tell my nephews that I played the last game at the Spectrum. And for me to play in the last game at Mellon Arena, that's also something great. It's a big rivalry game in the city. To be a part of that is great."