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Pitt wants to protect Petersen Events Center

| Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 10:10 p.m.

There was a time when Petersen Events Center was recognized as one of the most intimidating places to play in college basketball and Pitt was nearly unbeatable at home.

The Panthers are hoping that last season was an anomaly. They went 15-7 at the Pete, including a 4-6 record in Big East play. That's more home losses in one season than they had in their first four years the center was open.

“Before, teams used to be scared to come to Pittsburgh, I guess, to play us,” Pitt junior swingman Lamar Patterson said, “but the way we lost at home last year, teams feel like they can do it all the time. It's our job to make sure we regain that home-court advantage.”

Pitt hopes to start by opening Big East play with a home win. The No. 24 Panthers (12-1) play No. 8 Cincinnati (12-1) at noon Monday. The Bearcats won, 66-63, last New Year's Day at the Pete.

If history is any indication, the Panthers are poised for victory. They are 12-0 against top-10 opponents and 16-6 against top-25 foes at Petersen Events Center. This marks the 20th meeting between ranked teams at the Pete — Pitt is 15-4 in such games — and the first game of the Panthers' final season in the Big East.

“You've got to win your home games,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “That's something we must do, something we understand.”

Dixon doesn't have to remind the Panthers of the consequences. Their loss to Cincinnati a year ago was the third in an eight-game losing streak that saw their season spiral out of control. Pitt finished in 13th place, snapping its 10-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.

“The main thing we learned was the feeling of being at the bottom of the Big East,” Patterson said. “We want to win games that we're supposed to win.

“Starting off the Big East is good. It's a good thing to get these wins under your belt early on so if there is a little drop, it won't hurt you that much.”

Pitt's only defeat this season was to Michigan on Nov. 21 at the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden. Cincinnati is coming off a 55-54 home loss to New Mexico on Thursday.

The game also marks the Big East debut for two Pitt freshmen, center Steven Adams and guard James Robinson, against a veteran Bearcats team that starts five upperclassmen. They've already been given instructions on the most important part of playing at the Pete.

“Just protect the home court, period,” senior guard Tray Woodall said, “regardless of who we're playing.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kgorman@tribweb.com or 412-320-7812.

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