Pitt has chance to sweep West Virginia again
Travon Woodall and Pitt defeated Casey Mitchell and West Virginia, 71-66, at Morgantown, W.Va. Feb. 7.
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When Pitt and West Virginia meet in any sport there is no shortage of motivation in this long-standing rivalry. That is especially true in men's basketball because the Panthers and Mountaineers have competed against one another 182 times over the past century and more.
The games in recent years have been intense with both teams ranked in six of the past 11 meetings. So when one nationally elite team sweeps the other in the regular season it stands to reason that team has the potential for postseason success.
Pitt and West Virginia have played twice in the regular season every year since 2004-05, and when one has won both regular-season contests it has gone on to do big things in the Big East Conference and NCAA tournaments.
When Pitt swept West Virginia in 2006-07, the Panthers advanced to the Big East tournament championship game and then reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Two years later, when the Panthers swept the regular-season series, they advanced to the Elite Eight for their best showing in the tournament in 35 years.
Game: No. 4 Pitt (24-3, 12-2 Big East) vs. West Virginia (17-9, 8-6), 9 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
TV, radio, Internet: ESPN, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Coming off 60-59 loss at St. John's. ... Is 6-1 against West Virginia at the Petersen Events Center, with the lone loss Feb. 23, 2005. ... Has won 15 of past 22 against the Mountaineers, including a 71-66 win at the WVU Coliseum earlier this month. ... Junior G Ashton Gibbs (16.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg) has scored 20 or more in each of the past three games he has played.
West Virginia: Coming off 72-58 victory against Notre Dame. ... Sophomore center Deniz Kilicili (7.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) scored 19 against Pitt earlier this month. ... Led by senior G Casey Mitchell (14.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg), junior forward Kevin Jones (12.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and junior G Darryl Bryant (11.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg). ... Coach Bob Huggins needs 13 victories to reach 700 for his career and three to reach 100 at West Virginia.
Of note: Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 37-11 in his career after a loss.
Conversely, when West Virginia had a regular-season sweep in '04-05 the Mountaineers advanced to the Elite Eight after playing in the Big East tournament championship game. That was West Virginia's best NCAA tournament showing since 1958, until a year ago when it advanced to the Final Four.
Fourth-ranked Pitt will play host to West Virginia tonight with a chance to sweep the season series for the third time in the past five years.
"We know what's at stake," senior forward Gilbert Brown said. "We want to win the Big East regular championship. We know we have to do it in these last four games."
Both teams are entrenched in the NCAA tournament field, but they each have goals to achieve in the final weeks of the regular season.
Pitt (24-3, 12-2) has a two-game lead over Notre Dame in the Big East standings with four games remaining. The Panthers can clinch their first regular-season title since 2004 with three victories in their final four games or two victories and a Notre Dame loss.
West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) is playing for seeding in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. The Mountaineers were in a three-way tie for eighth place in the conference before Wednesday night's games and they have been projected as a No. 4 or 5 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Pitt won Feb. 7 at the WVU Coliseum. The 71-66 victory came with leading scorer Ashton Gibbs on the bench with a knee injury. Gibbs will be back in the starting lineup tonight for the first time since Feb. 5. He played for the first time in two weeks Saturday at St. John's, coming off the bench to score a career-high 26 points.
While Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins has Gibbs to worry about, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has West Virginia center Deniz Kilicili to contain. Kilicili, 6 feet 9 and 260 pounds, usually plays well against Pitt. He was 9 for 13 from the field and scored 19 points in the game at West Virginia earlier this month. He was 4 for 4 and scored nine points last year at West Virginia. He was scoreless, though, in the game last year at Pitt.
"I thought for the most part we did a good job [on Kilicili]," Dixon said of the Feb. 7 meeting. "Sometimes a guy will make a shot. He made more than a few. For the most part, we thought the majority were well-guarded. Then he missed some at the end. That kind of fed into our philosophy. If he makes a tough shot, fine. But they're not going to make them consistently all the way through."
Senior center Gary McGhee figures to play a large role against Kilicili. McGhee's backup, Dante Taylor, might not play because of knee soreness. J.J. Richardson, a 6-foot-7 reserve, would move up to spell McGhee if Taylor cannot play.
Since that first meeting at West Virginia, the Mountaineers have won two of their past three, including a 72-58 victory Saturday against Notre Dame. Darryl Bryant scored 24 against the Irish and Joe Mazzulla had 16.
It was a rare offensive outburst for a team that ranks 10th in the Big East in scoring and field-goal percentage and has scored more than 70 points twice in the past nine games.
The Mountaineers figure to be motivated after allowing Pitt to outrebound them by 12, including 18 offensive rebounds, in the first game. Huggins ripped into his team after the first Pitt game for its lack of toughness, continually saying at his postgame news conference that his team was "outmanned."
"I think everyone remembers the remarks Huggins made about his players," Brown said. "I know they're fired up. They want to come out and prove something. Coach has been stressing rebounding drills and playing strong defense. We have to stay focused because I know a couple of the players down there, and they're really looking forward to this game."
Correction/Clarification: (Published February 25, 2011) The Pitt men's basketball team had a 24-3 record before Thursday's game. A graphic in Thursday's paper had an incorrect number of losses.
First Published February 24, 2011 12:19 am