Panthers make rare trip to West Coast

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2007

Pitt is leaving home for the holidays.

One day after making its shortest road trip of the season, the Pitt men's basketball team is departing for one of the longest journeys in the school's history.

The Panthers took off for Washington -- the state -- on Thursday afternoon, boarding a 2,500-mile chartered flight across the country to play the Pac-10 school for the first time in 57 years.

No. 12 Pitt (8-0) will play the University of Washington (4-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Panthers' first regular-season trip to the West Coast in more than a decade begins a road-weary December in which they will play only one home game from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1 (Oklahoma State on Dec. 15).

Pitt is playing four road/neutral games in December; no other team in the Big East has more. It's more December games away from home than Louisville, Marquette and Syracuse combined.

"That's what you get for playing (the first) seven (games) at home," coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's based around TV. All of these games are nationally televised. That's the reason. It's never going to be perfect to be flying five hours across the country."

Dixon said the flooding in Southwest Washington is not expected to affect the Panthers or the game at 10,000-seat Bank of America Arena.

The demanding December opened Wednesday night with a 73-68 victory over Duquesne at a sold-out Palumbo Center. Junior forward Sam Young said the extended road trips are exactly what Pitt needs after spending all of November playing at Petersen Events Center.

"It's time to stop being babied," Young said. "We got to get out there and learn to walk on our own."

Times have changed since the last time Pitt played at Washington.

In the winter of 1950, the Doc Carlson-coached Panthers traveled by train for a two-week, eight-game sojourn to the West Coast for one of the most bizarre road trips in the school's history.

The Panthers played at Minnesota, before hopping on the Olympian Hiawatha, a state-of-the-art train. On the way to the West Coast, they went through the snow-covered mountains of Idaho and Montana, seeing the sights from the unique glassed-in "Skytop" cars used for observation and sleeping

On the road
Pitt will travel more than 3,100 miles in December, from Duquesne to the cross-country trek to Seattle.
Date Opponent Site Miles
Dec. 5 Duquesne Pittsburgh 3
Dec. 8 Washington Seattle 2,500
Dec. 20 Duke Madison Square Garden 370
Dec. 29 Dayton Ohio 260

"We would walk upstairs and see the United States," said Dr. Mickey Zernich, 76, of Aliquippa, a retired orthopaedic surgeon and sophomore forward on the 1950-51 team.

Once on the West Coast, the Panthers played at then No. 12 Washington on back-to-back days, and at Oregon State on back-to-back days. They played at California the day after Christmas and at UCLA two days later. The team flew from Los Angeles to play at Iowa, before taking another two-day train ride back to Pittsburgh.

Pitt lost every game along the way, going 0-8.

"That was a long trip we took there," said George Hromanik, 78, of Freedom, a guard on the 1950-51 Pitt team.

The tour, which came two years after another one of Carlson's West Coast-by-train excursions, was not without adventure. While in Minnesota, the wheels on the train froze.

"We couldn't get the train started," Zernich said. "Here we are thinking about California, and we're freezing in Minnesota with nothing but light clothes."

Players recalled Hall of Fame coach Carlson holding a practice in a hotel ballroom on Christmas Day in Berkeley, Calif.

"It was a very educational trip," Zernich said. "We came back with a lot of education and no victories."

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