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Pitt confident heading into final Big East tourney

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt's Talib Zanna fights for a rebound in front of Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston on Sunday, March 3, 2013, at Petersen Events Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna scores in overtime against Villanova on Sunday, March 3, 2013, at Petersen Events Center.

Jamie Dixon likes to call Madison Square Garden Pitt's second home, though he acknowledges that playing there in the Big East Tournament is different.

“We've had a great history there,” Dixon said.

Pitt has played in the Big East championship game seven times since 2001, winning it in '03 and '08.

The Panthers, the No. 4 seed in the Big East tourney, are hoping to make one last historic run before joining the ACC.

“Whenever you hear you're about to play at the Garden, the name speaks for itself,” Pitt redshirt junior swingman Lamar Patterson said.

“Every great has played there. They made it the home of the greats. You've got to perform when you get there.

“It's a big stage, a huge stage, and being in the last Big East Tournament is definitely one we want to win.”

No. 17 Pitt (24-7) plays at 2 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals against the winner of Wednesday's game between Syracuse (23-8) and Seton Hall (15-17), which defeated South Florida, 46-42.

The Panthers beat both teams at Petersen Events Center this season, scoring a 65-55 victory over then-No. 6 Syracuse on Feb. 2, and defeating Seton Hall, 56-46, on Feb. 4.

“We're making sure we go up there for one thing and one thing only,” Patterson said. “It's the last year in the Big East for us, probably the last year for this tournament like this. It's exciting, especially because we have a special team. I think we can do good things in the tournament this year.

“It comes down to who wants it more. We're only guaranteed two games for the rest of the season now, so whoever wants it more will play the most games. We've got the guys where we can do good things.”

Pitt appears to be a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament regardless of how it fares in the Big East tourney, but the Panthers would earn an automatic berth by winning the championship.

That was the only chance Pitt had when it reached the Big East final for the first time in 2001, when the Panthers were 16-13 before beating Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse and losing to Boston College in the title game.

Prior to that run, Pitt had won only six games in 18 years at the Big East tourney.

Dixon called it a run that catapulted Pitt's program.

“From then on, we started winning games in the regular season,” Dixon said. “Since then, we've had the best record in the conference. I remember that because it got people excited about our program. It woke them up about our program, and we started selling tickets a couple years thereafter.”

This time, the Panthers have the luxury of scouting their opponents, visiting the 9/11 Memorial and even spending time with their families in New York and New Jersey.

They hope to change their luck after failing three times to win a game with the double bye but believe this is a team built for making a prolonged postseason run.

“We're confident. We feel like we can win this whole thing,” Pitt fifth-year senior guard Tray Woodall said. “That's why we're going to go there with the mind-state that we can win it all. Hopefully, the outcome comes to that.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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