79th renewal of Pitt-Duquesne rivalry sets stage for Consol's first basketball game

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There have been hundreds of great college basketball games played in Pennsylvania over the years. Christian Laettner's buzzer beater that lifted Duke over Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament was played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. UCLA's upset of No. 1 seed Cincinnati in double overtime occurred at then-Mellon Arena in the second round of the 2002 NCAA tournament.

Those games, along with too many other to recount, are a part of the game's rich history in the state. Pitt has been fortunate to play in many memorable and historic games over the years, including two in the past two seasons. The Panthers played Villanova in the final college basketball game at the Spectrum in January 2009 and the final college basketball game against Duquesne at Mellon Arena last December.

  • Game: No. 3 Pitt (7-0) vs. Duquesne (3-1), 9:20 p.m.
  • Where: Consol Energy Center.
  • TV: ESPNU.

This season, Pitt won't be closing down an historic building but playing the first college basketball contest in a new arena.

Pitt and Duquesne will play the City Game at 9:20 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Center. The first event held at Consol Energy Center was a Paul McCartney concert in August. The Penguins played the first hockey game there in October.

The first basketball game of any kind will be the 79th renewal of the rivalry between the Panthers and the Dukes.

"If we can replicate what happened last year that would be great," said Jay Roberts, the general manager of Consol Energy Center, who was speaking about the first double-overtime game in the series, won by Pitt. "That was an NCAA-type atmosphere with fans for each school cheering for their teams. It was a great atmosphere."

Roberts worked hard to get Pitt and Duquesne to move their annual game from their respective home courts to Mellon Arena for last year's grand finale and for future City Games at Consol. In addition to Pitt and Duquesne playing games at Consol every season, the NCAA tournament will return to Pittsburgh for the first time in a decade when men's first- and second-round games will be played in March 2012 at Consol.

Pitt also is playing a Big East-SEC Challenge game against Tennessee on Dec. 11 at Consol.

"We're excited about this thing," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We have Tennessee and [Duquesne] has three other games here. We have the NCAA tournament [in 2012]. We hope we can build on it. Basketball is on the rise here. Playing in this arena is part of that."

Dixon said there is no interest on Pitt's part to move any Big East home games from the Petersen Events Center to Consol.

Duquesne is playing four games at Consol this season, including two Atlantic 10 Conference games. The Dukes are playing there Dec. 13 against West Virginia, Jan. 30 against Dayton and Feb. 13 against Xavier.

The seating capacity for Duquesne's games at Consol will be about 8,500 because the upper-level seating in the arena will be draped off. The seating capacity for the City Game will be 19,100. Roberts said 12,000 tickets have been sold for Wednesday's game. There are tickets available for the Tennessee game as well as the other three games the Dukes will play there.

The Penguins did their best to make Pitt and Duquesne feel at home. Each school has its own locker room, with team logos on the carpeting and walls painted school colors.

Dixon and two of his players saw Pitt's locker room for the first time Monday. They were given a tour of the facility after a news conference to promote the game.

Dixon will have his team practice there today and have a shootaround there on Wednesday, so his players can get used to their surroundings.

The Dukes are more familiar with the building. They took a five-minute stroll down from their Uptown campus to get to the news conference. Dukes coach Ron Everhart, a West Virginia native, grew up on Eastern Eight basketball and games at old Civic Arena, and he is excited to start a new chapter of college basketball in Pittsburgh.

"For me, it's real special because as a kid to say I enjoyed it would be a tremendous understatement," he said of witnessing Pitt, Duquesne and West Virginia games at Mellon Arena. "That was part of the basketball culture around here. I took that as something that was a great opportunity, to see [Sam] Clancy and those guys at Pitt or [Bob] Huggins and those guys at West Virginia or Jarrett Durham and Mickey Davis and those guys at Duquesne. Those were special days for me as a young guy and understanding what big-time college basketball was all about. For me to play in a game like this is tremendous."

And for many of Pitt's players, it's another chance to be a part of history. The Panthers lost to Villanova in the final game at the Spectrum, and they beat the Dukes in double overtime last year to close down Mellon Arena.

"You sit back and think about all of the historical games we played," Pitt senior Gilbert Brown said. "We closed Mellon. We closed the Spectrum. You sit back and think about it and it's like, 'Wow you did a lot in your career.' You really appreciate it after a while."

NOTES -- Pitt moved up from No. 5 to No. 3 in The Associated Press and ESPN coaches' polls. ... Dixon said Monday that Pitt will play in the 2012 preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published November 30, 2010 5:00 AM


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