Pittsburgh-West Virginia Preview
Pittsburgh is still bitter about how poorly it played in its last trip to West Virginia, and that game has been over for more than a year.
Motivated by that ugly loss, the fourth-ranked Panthers try to hand the 25th-ranked Mountaineers a rare defeat in Morgantown on Monday night in the 181st meeting in this series, known as the Backyard Brawl.
Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1 Big East) is off to the fourth-best start in its history and leads the Big East by two games. Ashton Gibbs (16.3 points per game), Brad Wanamaker (12.3) and Gilbert Brown (11.5) lead the Panthers' offense, but two of those stars failed to score in Pittsburgh's 70-51 loss at WVU Coliseum on Feb. 3, 2010.
Wanamaker and Brown each missed their four field goal attempts. Gibbs wasn't much better, going 2 for 13 from the field and finishing with 11 points.
"Last year when we went down there we got outplayed," Brown said. "Several of us were shut out. It's going to be a battle, but we want to go down there and finish out strong, especially for us seniors. We're going to have to step up. It's going to be crazy."
While the then-No. 6 Mountaineers (15-7, 6-4) completely overpowered the 22nd-ranked Panthers to beat their rivals for the 24th time in 32 meetings at WVU Coliseum, the victory was overshadowed by an ugly incident.
West Virginia's fans threw objects onto the court, prompting Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins to take a microphone and address the raucous crowd. With 5:14 left, while officials reviewed a scuffle under the basket, Panthers assistant coach Tom Herrion was hit with what appeared to be a coin under his right eye.
"It wasn't good last year when we went down there," Wanamaker said.
Nine days after their embarrassing loss in Morgantown, the then-No. 25 Panthers defeated fifth-ranked West Virginia 98-95 in triple overtime, the longest game in the series' history. Gibbs and Wanamaker each scored 24 points for Pitt, while Brown finished with 16.
Gibbs enters this meeting coming off a brilliant performance in Saturday's 71-59 win over Cincinnati. He had 18 of his career high-tying 25 points in the first half, en route to his ninth 20-point outing of the season.
"It's just something that's clicking,'' said Gibbs, who made all five of his 3-point attempts against the Bearcats. "I'm trying to move without the ball as much as I can, and my teammates are doing a great job of just finding me in open spots.''
While Pittsburgh has been receiving stellar contributions from Gibbs, its uncertain what to expect from West Virginia top scorer Casey Mitchell (15.7 ppg).
Mitchell was scoreless in nine minutes off the bench in Saturday's 66-50 loss to then-No. 12 Villanova, his first game back from a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Coach Bob Huggins didn't say why Mitchell was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 24, and offered less insight on his reinstatement.
"Because I'm the coach,'' Huggins said. "And I decide who plays and who doesn't.''
Huggins wasn't in chipper mood after watching his team miss 7 of 12 free throws and get outrebounded 35-29.
"When we win, we rebound the ball,'' he said.
The Mountaineers, who are 0-4 when getting outrebounded, will likely have a tough time on the boards against a Pittsburgh team that leads the nation in rebounding differential at 12.5 per game.