Pitt Hits The Road

Most people like to stay home for the holidays, but the Pitt men's basketball will relish life on the road in the next few weeks.

After spending their first eight games at home, with just one road game at crosstown rival Duquesne, the 12th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers (8-0) play five of their next seven games away from the Petersen Events Center.

Pitt's first seven games this season were at home against teams which have a winning percentage at about 32 percent. It gets a lot tougher from here on out for the Panthers, who traveled some 2,500 miles to the West Coast to face the University of Washington today. The Huskies (4-3) have a 31-game home winning streak. Pitt beat them last season at the Pete.

"It's going to be a tough game, a real good test for us,'' Pittsburgh freshman center DeJuan Blair said. "But we're ready for them. We've worked hard, and we're playing good, team basketball at both ends.''

The Panthers also face Oklahoma State Dec. 15 at home, take on Duke Dec. 20 at Madison Square Garden in New York City and travel to Dayton Dec. 29. The new year begins with a matchup against Lafayette Jan. 2 at home. Then, the Big East slate opens at Villanova Jan. 6 and South Florida Jan. 9.

Pitt's schedule only gets more brutal after that with Conference play getting into high gear, but that had to happen for the Panthers. They drastically upgraded their schedule last year in an attempt to sway the NCAA seeding committee to rate them higher going into the tournament.

"Obviously, we didn't do this nine years ago when we came here,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We were trying to change things. Getting as many wins as possible was the main priority, not getting on television. We're on national television 26 times this season. I don't think anyone else is doing that.

"So, it's going to be tough, but things worked out pretty well for us last year. We had a bunch of road games against some really good teams, and if we want to be on national television you have to do it in December. Our Big East games are going to be televised, too, so it's great exposure for our program. That outweighs the challenge it presents, and it will be a challenge.''

The opening game in this stretch against Washington certainly will be Pitt's toughest yet. The Huskies have won 829 games in their arena, more than any other program, even Duke (709) at Cameron Indoor.

"It's going to be good for us to play a team like Washington,'' Pitt junior point guard Levance Fields said. "Washington's going to be tough, and it's going to be loud out there. That'll be a real good challenge for us, especially this early in the season, so we'll have to be on top of our game.''

From here on out the Panthers will need to be playing at peak efficiency. Junior forward Sam Young, who leads Pitt with 18.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, has been a big reason for the team's early success. Young has scored on a variety of moves, inside and outside, and has been more consistent from 3-point range as well as on defense.

"It's time for us to get out of here and play some big teams,'' Young said. "We get that every night in the Big East season, so the earlier we do it the better. We can't be babied with all these home games. We need to learn to get out and walk on our own.''

With the competition facing the Panthers the next few weeks, it might be better if they run.

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