Pitt Ends Difficult Stretch On Road

A tough stretch ends for the Pitt men's basketball team against Connecticut, as it plays its fourth game in 10 days today at 1 p.m. in Hartford, but Panthers coach Jamie Dixon doesn't believe his team is wearing down.

"Not at this point right now, because I think we've been managing (the lineup) very well,'' Dixon said. "So, I think our guys are ready to do a good job.

"I think we spread out the minutes as well as we could have the other night (against Villanova), and it was about as efficient as we could have done that. It worked out well, so I feel good about where our guys are at right now.''

The matchup between No. 18 Pittsburgh (17-4, 5-3 Big East) and unranked Connecticut (15-5, 5-3) at the XL Center will be televised nationally by CBS Sports and features the Big East's top two programs since the 2001-02 season. The Panthers have the Conference's best winning percentage overall (.799, 179-45) and in Big East games (.731, 76-28).

UConn is second in both categories with a 167-60 overall record (.736) and 73-31 Big East mark (.702). Since 2001-02, Pitt has made six NCAA trips, while the Huskies have made five. The two teams also made the Sweet Sixteen four of the past six years and were in the Big East title game three times during that period. Each team has won five times in the past 10 meetings with Pitt winning last season at the Petersen Events Center in the only matchup.

"We know that they're physical,'' Pitt junior forward Tyrell Biggs said. "We just got their scouting report, and we went over their main players: A.J. Price, (Jeff) Adrien, (Jerome) Dyson and guys like that, and we know they're going to be physical. So, we just have to match their intensity.

"They're a strong team with a lot of pieces to their puzzle, and they've played well. The Louisville game, we watched some of that game, and they had a lot of people step up for them. So, I think we can expect those guys to do that again and give them a great game. They're very talented.''

UConn has won four straight despite playing without suspended starting guard Dyson (14.3 points per game) and top sub Doug Wiggins (6.6) the past two games, as the Huskies beat Louisville and No. 7 Indiana on the road. Dyson's suspension will continue for 30 days for reportedly failing a second drug test in his career, while Wiggins passed a recent test and could play against Pitt.

"Losing two guys and not really knowing their status, they've got some guys playing in different spots,'' Dixon said. "We watched their games against Louisville and Indiana, and that was a great win at Indiana.

"But they've got an experienced team with everybody returning from last year, and they've played well (the past four games). They had a disappointing loss at home, but they've won two big road games and are playing well.''

Connecticut isn't without weapons and is led in scoring by Price with 14.3 points per game, while Adrien is at 14.1 points and 9.2 rebounds. Talented center Hasheem Thabeet tallies 11.1 points and 7.2 rebounds each game, a vast improvement from last season. Stanley Robinson is the other starter with 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

"Thabeet is a lot better,'' Biggs said. "He's a great free-throw shooter, so he's a lot better than last year. I won't say he's great, but he's a lot better than last year. He's a lot more mobile and quick on his feet, but we went over that, too.

"So, we'll be ready for him. (And) we'll guard him the same way we guard any other big man. We won't let him get good post position. ... That's the big thing that we do against the big guys, and that's what we'll do against him.''

Dixon believed that Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair needed to play him tough immediately in the post and not allow him to get into position.

"(Blair) has to be smart against him and not let them get the ball to him in close,'' Dixon said, "make him take tougher shots, away from the basket. But the main thing is to keep him off the boards so he can't get put-backs, because that's the way he gets a lot of his points.''

After visiting Connecticut, Pitt has home games with West Virginia Thursday at 7 p.m. and Providence Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

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