The City Game is the last rivalry remaining for Pitt, albeit a lopsided one

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When Jamie Dixon became the head coach at Pitt, the Panthers had rivalry games galore. There was the annual game with Duquesne plus others with Penn State and West Virginia.

Dixon enjoyed the games and believed they were good for college basketball in the region. Ten years later, the only game that remains is the City Game with the Dukes, which takes place tonight at Consol Energy Center.

The Penn State game disappeared after a 37-point Pitt victory in 2005 at Petersen Events Center. Former Penn State coach Ed DeChellis informed Dixon he did not want to resume the series after that.

The most recent game against West Virginia was last season, but the Mountaineers left the Big East for the Big 12 Conference. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins tried to keep the rivalry going, but the game between the two schools that are 75 miles apart will not take place this year for the first time since 1918.

In a perfect world, Dixon would schedule West Virginia, but in order to balance the athletic department budget Pitt has to play at least eight non-conference games at the Petersen Events Center every season, not including exempt tournaments that sometimes provide additional home games.

When the Big East went to an 18-game conference schedule in 2007-08, it did not provide any wiggle room for home-and-away series with non-conference teams. West Virginia is likely to remain off the schedule when the Panthers move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season because the ACC has said it will play an 18-game league schedule as well.

That leaves Pitt with only Duquesne as a non-conference rival. This series has withstood the test of time despite a lopsided edge in the series for the Panthers, who have won 30 of the past 33 contests.

After playing the game on campus sites from 2002-08, the series received a boost the past three years, moving to the Civic Arena and then Consol Energy Center. Last December, Consol Energy Center played host to the largest crowd to witness a game between the Panthers and Dukes.

"It's a great game," Dixon said. "It's great for the city. We had 16,000 there last year. It says a lot about how important it is to the city, to both schools and, probably, people who are impartial. It's a tradition, and traditions are an important part of Pittsburgh."

Pitt is riding the longest winning streak in the series history at 11 consecutive games, including an 80-69 victory last year.

The last time the Dukes won a game in the series Pitt's freshmen were 6. The Dukes beat the Panthers, 71-70, Dec. 21, 2000.

Dixon points to the history between the two schools as a reason to keep playing the game. Even though the Panthers have dominated in recent years, there was a time when the Dukes had the upper hand. Duquesne was 9-4 in games played between 1966-77. Even with the recent Pitt dominance, the Panthers hold only an 18-game edge in the series.

"I think tradition is important to everybody, but I think it's more important to Pittsburgh," Dixon said. "Since I've been here -- and I've been here 14 years -- sometimes people ask because we've won a few of the games lately, [why continue playing]? Well, because it's the right thing to do. You're never bigger than an institution or tradition. We understand that and hopefully we can continue to do that. I know how much it meant to a lot of people. And if it means something to a lot of people it means something to us."

The lack of competitive games in the series has left Pitt players almost indifferent to the game, but senior center Dante Taylor said there is a different feel this season because West Virginia is no longer on the schedule.

"I definitely think it brings more significance and more importance, especially not having West Virginia," Taylor said. "Even though Duquesne and Robert Morris are right here, West Virginia was really our rivalry. Everyone looked forward to those games. Those were always good games. Right now, we have to treat this one like that and just bring it."

The only competitive game in the past 11 was the final college basketball game played at the Civic Arena in 2009. Pitt erased a 16-point second-half deficit and won in double overtime.

Duquesne coach Jim Ferry will take part in the game for the first time. Ferry is in his first season with the Dukes and starts three freshmen. He knows his team will be a big underdog, but he is hoping to do what Oakland University and Detroit did in recent games against the Panthers. He would like to keep the score close and be in position to pull an upset late.

"We're going to have to be really smart and have to hurt them by using some ball screen action," Ferry said. "We're going to have to make some shots. It's going to come down to rebounding. If we can compete with them on the glass, we'll have a chance. We have to come up tied or win by one [rebound] each half to win this game.

"We have to get it in a situation where it's a close game with five minutes to go. If it's a close game then the pressure goes back on them. We just have to play really well, disciplined and compete on the glass."

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 5, 2012 5:00 AM


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