Pitt Starts Final Stretch At Marquette

The Pitt men's basketball team lost both regular-season matchups to Marquette last year, but the Panthers got revenge in the Big East Tournament and eventually advanced to the championship game.

The stakes aren't that high this time, but Conference seeing is on the line when No. 22 Pittsburgh (19-5 overall, 7-4 Big East) faces Marquette (17-6, 7-5) Friday at 9 p.m. at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

"That was the last time we've seen them, but I haven't seen them a lot this year, until watching film (for this game),'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But they have a lot of returning guys, so we're very familiar with them. There's not too many changes, as far as personnel, so there's some familiarity.''

Levance Fields has had quite a few big games against Marquette during his career, and he can't wait for this game.

"This is a big game,'' Fields said. "It's between two ranked teams, and it's at their place. So, they're going to be ready for us. I just want to do the best that I can to help our team win this game.''

Redshirt freshman forward Gilbert Brown doesn't have the history with Marquette like Fields. In fact, this is his first game played in the series, but that doesn't mean he isn't aware of the intense rivalry that exists.

"The fans are always ready when we go to Marquette,'' Brown said, "just like our fans. ... Marquette has some good players, especially their guards, but we just have to go out there and play good defense. And I think we'll be fine.

"We've been preparing for Marquette on the road, and we're playing really well on defense right now. That will help us be successful in this road game. And we're comfortable going on the road. Offensively, when we move the ball the way we did the other night, we're a much better team.''

Dixon has noted excessively in recent weeks that with starting center DeJuan Blair, backup Gary McGhee, Bradley Wanamaker and Brown, Pitt has four players with freshman eligibility in its eight-player rotation.

"We're a team that's evolving,'' Dixon said, "and when you have four freshmen in your top eight you hope that you're not the same team at the end that you are in the beginning of the season. ... And when Levance comes back, we'll be evolving again and will become a new team again. So, we're always evolving.''

Marquette has four double-figure scorers: Lazar Hayward (14 points per game), Dominic James (13.3), Jerel McNeal (12.9) and Wesley Matthews (11). Hayward also averages 6.5 rebounds per game, while James averages more than four assists per contest. McNeal (4.5) and Matthews (4.3) also hit the boards with 6-foot-10 senior forward Ousmane Barro (5.5).

However, a key for Pitt is its rebounding differential, and the Panthers lead the Big East in rebounding defense with an average of 32 per game.

"Our mentality going into the game is that we have to out-rebound a team by 10-plus boards every game,'' Brown said. "And I just think that it's great when you've got a player like DeJuan Blair down there, because he grabs everything. And Sam Young, too. He's playing great.

"So, it's definitely a state of mind with us to grab every rebound on offense and at the defensive end. Coach always keeps us posted on our rebounding total, compared to the other team, and by halftime we should be up by at least eight. And then we have to maintain that in the second half.''

And if the Panthers can accomplish that goal, the result should be the same as the last time they played Marquette.

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