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Page ready to talk trash in his backyard

| Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002

Keep an eye on Julius Page this afternoon when Pitt plays Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

He'll be the guy talking trash, trading barbs with select Orangemen players about anything he can think of to get into their heads. The way Page sees it, he has carte blanche to jaw it up with the guys from the 'Cuse, considering he grew up two hours away in Buffalo and has a number of close friends on the team.

His primary target today - the game tips off at noon and will be televised by WTAE-4 - will be Syracuse junior guard DeShaun Williams, a pretty accomplished trash talker himself.

Pitt at Syracuse
  • Game info: Noon, Carrier Dome (33,000)

  • Coaches: Pitt, Ben Howland (third year, 52-33; eighth year, 131-92); Syracuse, Jim Boeheim (26th year, 618-214)

  • On the air: WTAE-4/WRRK-FM (96.9)

  • Probable starters: Pitt , Jaron Brown, F, 6-4, Soph., 10.0 ppg., 6.0 rpg.; Donatas Zavacaks, F, 6-8, Jr., 11.3, 5.5; Toree Morris, C, 6-10, Soph., 4.7, 4.0; Julius Page, G, 6-3, Soph., 11.3, 3.7; Brandin Knight, G, 6-0, Jr., 15.0, 5.1. Syracuse , Kueth Duany, G, 6-6, Jr., 14.1, 5.8; DeShaun Williams, G, 6-3, Soph., 18.2, 3.5; Hakim Warrick, F, 6-8, Fr., 5.3, 3.8; Preston Shumpert, F, 6-6, Sr., 20.4, 5.6; Craig Forth, C, 7-0, Fr., 4.9, 4.3.

  • The skinny: Pitt will attempt to sweep the series for only the second time since joining the Big East in 1982-83. That will not be an easy task in the Carrier Dome against a Syracuse team that is seeking revenge after a 15-point loss to the Panthers on Jan. 22 at Fitzgerald Field House, where the Orangemen hadn't been defeated since 1982-83. Pitt held a 43-18 rebounding edge in that one and pretty much pushed the Orangemen around. Pitt's center tandem of Ontario Lett and Toree Morris combined for 15 points and 10 rebounds.

  • Best matchup: Pitt guard Julius Page versus Syracuse guard DeShaun Williams. Page is one of the top on-ball defenders in the conference and relishes the chance to lock down on big scorers like Williams (18.2 ppg.). The last time the teams met, Williams finished with 12 points.

  • Noteworthy: The series dates to 1913-1914, with Syracuse holding a major edge. The Orangemen are 58-27 against the Panthers and 33-7 on their home floor. ... With a win today, Pitt will equal the victory total of the 1990-91 team, which reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
  • "We go at it all the time," said Page, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard who will be challenged defensively against Williams, who averages 18.2 points per game. "He tells me what he's going to do against me, and I tell him what I'll do to him. I just say, 'Go out and get it done.' I'll be watching him a lot. And, I'll make sure I shut him down the best I can."

    If Page and the rest of the Panthers (20-4, 8-3 Big East) succeed in shutting down the 17th-ranked Orangemen (18-6, 7-3), they'll take a one-and-a-half game lead in the Big East West Division with five regular-season games remaining.

    Pitt, ranked No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, currently holds a half-game lead over Syracuse.

    "This is a big one for us," said Page, who scored a career-high 21 points against the Orangemen in a 15-point Pitt victory Jan. 22 at Fitzgerald Field House. He also held Williams to 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field. "We know what we need to do."

    Pitt surely wants to finish in one of the top two spots in the division because that would earns it a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament in March.

    Without the bye, a team must win four games to capture the tournament title - as Pitt nearly did last year before losing to Boston College in the final - which has never been done.

    That said, keeping hold of the top spot in the West won't be easy against a Syracuse team that comes into this one with revenge on its mind.

    The Orangemen were severely outplayed by Pitt in a 72-57 loss at the field house and have dropped two straight to the Panthers, including an overtime defeat in the semifinals of last year's Big East Tournament.

    Page hopes to make it three in a row against his nemeses, though he knows that it will be difficult in the Carrier Dome, a voluminous building that treats its guests with the same hospitality that a warden shows his prisoners.

    The Orangemen are 13-1 there this season.

    "It's a hard gym to play in," Page said. "And it's going to be even tougher because you know they want to get back at us. We just have to get the lead early, then hold onto it. We can't let them take control."

    The player who Page and the Panthers are most concerned with is Syracuse's sharpshooting senior forward Preston Shumpert, who averages a team-best 20.4 points per game. Page even said he'll bite his tongue when dealing with Shumpert, as to not rankle him to the point where he elevates his game.

    That means Page won't poke fun at Shumpert for wearing the bulky protective goggles that he's been sporting of late to protect a scratched cornea, which occurred against Pitt last season in the Big East Tournament.

    "I don't want to make fun of those goggles because it might make him mad," Page said. "I'm staying away from that. He's a good player, and he can do some great things out there. You don't want to push it."

    Especially not on Shumpert's home court. The Orangemen have won the past three meetings against Pitt in the Carrier Dome and hold a 33-7 edge over the Panthers in Syracuse. Some consider the dome to be among the toughest places to play in the country, even though attendance is down this year.

    "I think people have trouble there because they don't get used to shooting in an arena like that," said Pitt junior guard Brandin Knight, who is 0-2 at the Carrier Dome. "I mean, they have that great record there. It's just difficult to win there.

    "Then, when you add in that they want to get back at us, it's going to make it even harder. This is going to be a battle. We want to keep our top spot in the conference and they want to take it away. We'll have to be ready to play."

    And to talk, at least in Page's case.

    "It's part of the fun," he said. "But the main thing is getting a win. That's what I really want out of this game."

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