Pitt has faced a number of teams with two quality post players this season. The Panthers have taken on Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green of Georgetown and Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien of Connecticut to name a few.
But the team that visits the Petersen Events Center this afternoon might own the best frontcourt tandem the Panthers have faced. Washington freshman center Spencer Hawes and sophomore forward Jon Brockman provide a 1-2 punch that has been hard for opposing teams to stop.
"I haven't seen too many teams with two post guys who can score and rebound the way these two do," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "They're very productive. They're relentless. You're talking about two kids everyone in the country wanted."
The 6-foot-11 Hawes is the most-heralded basketball recruit in Washington history and made news when he chose the Huskies over North Carolina last year. He is leading Washington in scoring with 15.1 points per game and has scored 20 or more points seven times.
Brockman, a 6-7 power forward, had been Washington's most heralded recruit until Hawes arrived. Brockman, who chose Washington over Duke, is second on the team behind Hawes in scoring (14.1 ppg) but is a tenacious rebounder in the mold of Chevon Troutman and averages 9.7 boards per game.
They will be going heads up against what is widely perceived to be the top frontcourt in the Big East Conference in Pitt center Aaron Gray and power forward Levon Kendall. The showdown between Gray and Hawes will be of particular interest, and 20 NBA scouts will watch the projected lottery players.
"You have a guy in Gray a senior who has been to the NCAA tournament, who has played a lot of ballgames," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He has a lot of experience and really knows his way around the paint. He has Spencer by about 40 pounds. The experience will be a factor there.
"Then you have Spencer on the other side. He is as skilled as any big man in the country regardless of class. It will be an interesting matchup."
Despite leading his team in scoring, it has been a difficult season for Hawes. He missed five weeks in preseason because of minor knee surgery and then came down with a mysterious stomach ailment that bothered him for the entire month of January. He lost 15 pounds and has been unable to regain it, but says he is finally close to 100 percent.
"That was tough to get through," Hawes said. "Hopefully, I've got that all out of the way and I'm getting back to play the way I should be."
When Hawes was going through his sickness, Washington struggled, losing six of its first seven games in the Pac-10. Hawes has led the Huskies in scoring the past two games, including 22 points in a 65-61 loss to Washington State earlier this week.
Washington has won five of its past seven games and hopes get back in the hunt for an NCAA tournament spot with a run over the final three weeks of the regular season.
"There will be adversity," Hawes said. "It's how you respond to it. It took us a little while to respond in the right way, but, hopefully, we have it going in the right direction."
Pitt has had its own adversity to deal with since losing to Louisville, 66-53, Monday night. It was Pitt's worst home loss in more than six years and featured a season-high 19 turnovers and one of the worst shooting performances of the season.
Washington is the third consecutive opponent to come to the Petersen Events Center with a sense of desperation. The Panthers were able to fight off Providence, but could not withstand the pressure Louisville unleashed on them.
The desperation factor was not lost on Dixon, but he said his team has plenty on the line as well.
"We talked about that," Dixon said. "But we're used to that. When you're ranked where we've been over the years, our games mean more to other teams. I don't put too much stock in that.
"We're playing for first place. I don't know what more motivation we could have had the past few days. I open practice every day telling them we're playing for first place. They have the thing we're shooting for.
"We're playing for first place, a better seed. We're playing to get better every day."
Matchup: No. 7 Pitt (22-4) vs. Washington (16-9), 2 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
TV, radio, Internet: ESPN, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Coming off its worst home loss in more than six years, a 66-53 setback to Louisville. ... Pitt has lost consecutive games under Jamie Dixon five times in his 124 games as the Panthers' head coach. ... Has won 18 consecutive home games against non-conference opponents. ... This is the first time Pitt will play a non-conference game in the middle of the Big East schedule since 1999.
Washington: Coming off a 65-61 home loss to Pac-10 rival Washington State. ... Is 3-5 against ranked opponents this season with the most recent victory coming against No. 25 Stanford last week. ... Is 1-7 on the road this season. ... Led by freshman C Spencer Hawes (15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), sophomore F Jon Brockman (14.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and freshman F Quincy Poindexter (11.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg).
Hidden stat: Pitt is 0-2 all-time against Washington. In 1950, the schools played on consecutive days in December.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230.