Pitt, West Virginia both seeking redemption in tonight's game
Love him or hate him, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins doesn't mince words.
He says what's on his mind and, if a few feelings get hurt along the way, so be it.
So, when Huggins, a 29th-year coach with 687 career victories, critiqued his team following Pitt's 71-66 victory in Morgantown two weeks ago, the players took it to heart.
"I think everybody remembers the remarks Huggins made about his players," Pitt senior Gilbert Brown said. "I know they are fired up and they want to come out and prove something."
No. 4 Pitt (24-3, 12-2 Big East), which is coming off a last-second, 60-59 loss at St. John's, hosts West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) at 9 p.m. today in a nationally televised game between archrivals with much more than bragging rights at stake.
Pitt is trying to take another step toward the Big East regular-season title — the Panthers lead by 1 1⁄2 games with four to play — and West Virginia is looking to squelch NCAA Tournament bubble talk one season after reaching the Final Four for the first time in 51 years.
In the Feb. 7 loss to Pitt, West Virginia allowed 18 offensive rebounds and 42 points in the paint and shot 4 for 17 from 3-point range. Afterward, Huggins said his team was outmanned — "I can't trade them. I could waive them, I guess, but I couldn't get anybody for them" — and there was nothing he could do.
"I have always tried to be really honest with our guys about everything: about where we are, where we stood, what we need to do," Huggins said Wednesday. "I think there were times when people said, 'Are you putting pressure on them?' I'm not putting pressure on them. I'm telling the truth. I know when I was a player, I wanted to know the truth. (The seniors) have been around long enough to know that I am honest with them."
West Virginia is 2-1 since that loss, rebounding from a 63-52 defeat at Syracuse to beat No. 9 Notre Dame, 72-58, at WVU Coliseum on Saturday. The Mountaineers shot 8 for 20 from 3-point range, held Notre Dame to 35 percent from the field and committed a season-low five turnovers.
Next up is the 182nd meeting in basketball's version of the Backyard Brawl.
"I know a couple of their players down there are really looking forward to this game," Brown said. "They are going to be real aggressive and get into us, and we have to be ready for the pressure."
With a win, Pitt boosts its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers need three more victories — or two and a loss by Notre Dame — to clinch the Big East regular-season title. And they are 37-11 following a loss under coach Jamie Dixon.
"We want to come out ... and redeem ourselves in a sense," sophomore Travon Woodall said. "What better team to redeem ourselves against than our rival?"
West Virginia at No. 4 Pitt
9 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center
Records: West Virginia 17-9, 8-6 Big East; Pitt 24-3, 12-2
TV/Radio: ESPN/WVAQ-FM (101.9), Mountaineer Sports Network, KDKA-FM (93.7), Pitt Radio Network
Favorite: Pitt by 8
Series: West Virginia leads, 95-86
Outlook: Pitt defeated West Virginia, 71-66, on Feb. 7 without guard Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is back, and he scored a career-high 26 points off the bench Saturday at St. John's.
Sophomore center Dante Taylor (knees), who missed Tuesday's practice, is expected to be available.
Pitt is 6-1 against West Virginia at the Pete, but it has been 41 years since the visiting team won both meetings in the season series.
West Virginia is starting two point guards: Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. They combined for 40 points on 11-of-21 shooting with seven assists and one turnover in 68 minutes of the Mountaineers' 72-58 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday. Casey Mitchell, the team's leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, and center Deniz Kilicli, who scored a game-high 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting in the first meeting with Pitt, come off the bench.
West Virginia ranks sixth in the nation in 3-point defense, and Pitt is first in the Big East in 3-point shooting. Gibbs is 15 for 23 from 3-point range in his past three games, but the rest of the team is 4 for 26.
• Coach: Bob Huggins, fourth season (97-39); 29th overall (687-250)
F Cam Thoroughman, 6-7 Sr.: 2.3 points per game
F Kevin Jones, 6-8 Jr.: 12.7 ppg
F John Flowers, 6-7 Sr.: 9.8 ppg
G Truck Bryant, 6-2 Jr.: 11.0 ppg
G Joe Mazzulla, 6-2 Sr.: 6.7 ppg
• Coach: Jamie Dixon, eighth season (212-57)
F Nasir Robinson, 6-5 Jr.: 8.6 ppg
F Gilbert Brown, 6-6 Sr.: 10.8 ppg
C Gary McGhee, 6-11 Sr.: 7.3 ppg
G Brad Wanamaker, 6-4 Sr.: 12.4 ppg
G Ashton Gibbs, 6-2 Jr.: 16.7 ppg
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