The way Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun complained about the officiating in the moments after Pitt beat the Huskies in Hartford, Conn., Feb. 16, one might have thought that the calls in the game were the deciding factor.
That the whistles against the Huskies were the culmination of a season's worth of calls going against his squad.
In reality, Calhoun is the Big East Conference coach with the least to complain about when it comes to the officiating this season.
Connecticut has been called for the fewest number of fouls of any of the 16 conference teams. The Huskies are called for an average of 11.8 fouls per game in Big East games. In addition, Connecticut's opponents are averaging 18.9 fouls per game, fourth among the 16 teams. Overall, the Huskies are first in the league in foul differential at 7.1 per game.
Pitt, by contrast, is ninth in the Big East in foul differential (-0.6) and is averaging 17 fouls per game while its opponents average 16.3 per game.
In Pitt's 76-68 victory Feb. 16 in Hartford, Connecticut was whistled for 19 fouls while Pitt was called for 18. Calhoun was particularly upset with a couple of questionable fouls on his center, Hasheem Thabeet, and the leeway officials gave to Pitt center DeJuan Blair, who was allowed to play his typical physical style.
Blair has been vocal since Calhoun's comments and is convinced that they have affected the way games have been officiated against Pitt since then. Blair fouled out of the loss at Providence last week, and he is convinced that a couple of questionable calls went against him because Calhoun planted the seed.
"I think Calhoun got in their heads," Blair said.
Blair, who jokingly said he would bring in cupcakes and cookies for officials, made a plea earlier this week for the game to be called without a lot of unnecessary whistles.
"DeJuan thought [Calhoun's comments] had an effect in the games after that," Pitt junior Jermaine Dixon said. "We'll see. Calhoun is a legendary coach. I'm pretty sure referees respect him. So, we'll see how it turns out."
While Thabeet was limited to 23 minutes and fouled out, the Panthers were not foul-free in that game. Pitt's leading scorer, Sam Young, also fouled out, and senior forward Tyrell Biggs played 14 minutes because he was in constant foul trouble, finishing the game with four fouls.
Much has been said about the level of officiating in that game, but it was consistent for both teams.
Pitt players are expecting Connecticut's players to attempt to match the Panthers' physical presence in the rematch. This time, they hope, without the whistles.
"We think it's going to be a physical game, but, after what [Calhoun] said about the referees and stuff like that, there might be some tick-tack fouls," Biggs said. "I think during the course of the game they'll let them go, but we'll see."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has taken the high road ever since Calhoun made his remarks. He maintained that stance Thursday when asked whether Calhoun's gamesmanship would have an effect on the officiating today.
"Oftentimes, coaches are talking about [officiating] after games, and then you move on," Dixon said. "It's not a big part of the game. I think there is more importance in the preparation and scouting reports and our execution. Those things have far more weight on the outcome of the game."
NOTE -- Senior guard Levance Fields, who bruised his tailbone in the win Wednesday against Marquette, is listed as questionable for the game today. His playing status will be decided shortly before the game.
Matchup: No. 3 Pitt (27-3, 14-3 Big East) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (27-2, 15-2), noon today, Petersen Events Center.
TV/Radio/Internet: KDKA, WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Coming off 90-75 win against Marquette. ... Victory would bring No. 1 or 2 seed in conference tournament next week. ... Beat Connecticut, 76-68, Feb. 16 in Hartford. ... It's the final home game for seniorsSam Young (18.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Levance Fields (10.9 ppg, 7.5 apg) and Tyrell Biggs (7.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
Connecticut: Coming off 72-65 win against Notre Dame in which senior F Jeff Adrien (13.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg) scored career-high 25. ... Junior C Hasheem Thabeet (13.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg) scored five points and had four rebounds in first meeting. ... 8-0 record in Big East road games.
Hidden stat:Thabeet has 238 career blocked shots in 51 Big East regular-season games and needs 10 today to break Big East record held by Patrick Ewing, who had 247 in 62 career games.