As Pitt attempts to revive its season, West Virginia falters
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The season's first Backyard Brawl on the hardwood would have been a completely different story a week ago.
Last Monday, West Virginia was riding high after an overtime home win against Cincinnati, its third victory in a row. All the while, Pitt fell to Louisville for its eighth straight loss.
Oh, what a difference a week makes.
Two teams heading in opposite directions collide at 7 p.m. Monday at WVU Coliseum: Resurgent Pitt will look to make it three wins in a row against suddenly slumping West Virginia, which has lost back-to-back games.
"We've got to get this thing going in the right direction again, and defending the home turf is extremely important for us," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
With point guard Tray Woodall back in the lineup, Pitt (13-9, 2-7) ended a five-week skid with a win over Providence on Wednesday. The Panthers followed that Saturday with a 72-60 win against No. 9 Georgetown.
West Virginia (15-7, 5-4) is trending down. Following a 78-62 loss Wednesday at St. John's, the Mountaineers dropped a heartbreaker Saturday at No. 3 Syracuse, 63-61. Junior forward Deniz Kilicli appeared to tie the score with eight seconds left, but Syracuse's Baye Keita blocked his layup after it touched the backboard, which should have been whistled as goaltending.
The loss dropped West Virginia to the middle of the Big East pack.
"We've put ourselves in a hole, and we've got to dig our way out," Huggins said. "We need to get at least nine wins in the league to get an (NCAA Tournament) bid, and we probably need to get to 10 or 11 to get a decent seed."
Kevin Jones has been West Virginia's one bright spot during the skid: The senior forward has at least 20 points in each of his past seven games. He's averaging 20.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, which rank eighth and fourth in the nation.
"I think he's so much more comfortable this year being the leader of a young basketball team," Huggins said. "I think he kind of relishes the idea of being more depended on."
Jones averaged 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in two games against Pitt last season — both WVU losses — but he'll be the focal point of the Panthers' defense.
"He can pretty much do it all," Pitt forward Lamar Patterson said. "We'll just be aggressive with him and be physical with him. We'll slow him down."
Pitt at West Virginia
When/where: 7 p.m. Monday/WVU Coliseum, Morgantown
TV/radio: ESPN/KDKA-FM (93.7), Pitt Radio Network, WVAQ-FM (101.9), WBGG-AM (970), Mountaineer Sports Network
Records: Pitt 13-9, 2-7 Big East; West Virginia 15-7, 5-4
Favorite: West Virginia by 6
Series: West Virginia leads, 95-87
Of note: Pitt is 15th in the Big East in free throws made per game (11.9).
Players to watch
Pitt: Nasir Robinson, Sr., F — Shooting a Big East-best 60.4 percent, including 22 for 33 (66.7) in the past three games.
West Virginia: Kevin Jones, Sr., F — All-Big East pick leads the conference in scoring (20.9) and rebounding (11.4).
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