The Backyard Brawl, the hard-wood version, continues with the 177th edition when No. 6 Pittsburgh (21-2, 8-2 in the Big East) plays host to West Virginia (16-7, 5-5) tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN as part of its Big Monday event.
Pitt is 5-1 in the last six games against the Mountaineers with the only loss at WVU Coliseum last season. The Panthers won 79-67, Jan. 25, at WVU in one of Pitt's most lopsided wins there since that arena opened in 1970. And this time, there are several candidates to make the big shot, because Pitt's offense is on a roll.
The Panthers enter this game on a three-game winning streak after scoring more than 90 points in each of those games for the first time in a little more than 18 years. The last time Pitt scored 90 or more points in three straight games was from Dec. 6-15, 1990 when it defeated Marshall (105), West Virginia (96) and Robert Morris (98) in consecutive games. Pitt has scored 90 or more points in four straight games only one time, during the 1986-87 season, from Nov. 29-Dec. 8, 1986.
"We're excited about the way we're playing on offense, but the first thing coach does is come into the locker room and talk about our defense,'' senior point guard Levance Fields said. "Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get it done. I think we want to do it, but we're just having a lot of slippage.
"Even when we get a stop, we give up second chances. We have to keep making (opponents) hit the contested shots and don't get away from that. (So), we're playing offense, (but) hopefully, we'll get back to that under 40-percent defense that we're used to playing.''
Fields referred to the opposition's shooting percentage. Only four of Pitt's first 19 opponents shot better than 44 percent from the field. In the past four games, all four opponents reached that mark. Robert Morris shot better than 57 percent, and DePaul -- winless in 11 straight games -- made just 3 of 18 shots from 3-point range, but still hit nearly 50 percent overall.
"We're a good offensive team,'' sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. "We're a running team. We're showing you guys that we can run. We can run with the best of them. A lot of people say we're not a running team, but now we're showing a lot of people.''
With Blair cleaning the glass and hitting outlet passes, the Panthers' offense has been in high gear in recent games. But all Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wants to talk about is the defense and its shortcomings.
"We have to defend better,'' Dixon said. "We've got to get better defensively.''
West Virginia has the top scoring defense in the Big East with about 61 points per game allowed. WVU halted a two-game losing streak with an 86-59 win at home against Providence Saturday. The Mountaineers are led by Da'Sean Butler (17.8 points per game), Alex Ruoff (16.2) and Darryl Bryant (10.1).
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