The Backyard Brawl

As rivalries go, the annual Backyard Brawl has been among the best in college football.

The one between the Pittsburgh and West Virginia men's basketball teams, which includes home and away games each season, has not disappointed, either. Sometimes, the rivalry has been heated like Feb. 3 in Morgantown, W.Va. when there was a player dust-up, WVU fans yelled derisive remarks throughout the game and threw things onto the court twice.

The second occasion, which actually followed Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins' plea to act more professionally, Pitt associate head coach Tom Herrion was struck just below an eye with a coin. The rematch is tonight at 9 at the Petersen Events Center and televised nationally by ESPN.

"This rivalry is a great one,'' Pitt redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown said. "I think it's up there with the Duke-Carolina rivalry. What happened the last time down in Morgantown really lit a fire under us. I think we're going to come out, play together and play hard as a team.''

When the Pete has been jammed to the rafters, and there's no reason to believe it won't be for this game against No. 5 WVU, the atmosphere is incredible. Pitt's fans, including the Oakland Zoo student section, should make the arena rock. But nothing out of the ordinary or dirty is expected.

"I think they've sold out since they started playing in the Petersen Center,'' Huggins said told "And their students are great. They've got a great student section. They're very enthusiastic and loud. But you can say that about a whole lot of places in this league.''

The Panthers believe the fans will be on their best behavior, but loud.

"I think people will want to come out for this game because we lost down there and the way it was,'' Pitt senior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "I'm sure people will want to come out and watch this game. With this being a rivalry game, it's kind of big. The loss down there is definitely fueling us for this game.''

Even though Pitt eventually was pounded in Morgantown, 70-51, the Panthers are optimistic going into tonight's game. The previous matchup was close for a while, as the Panthers trailed by just two midway through the second half, and then there's all the other stuff that went on. Pitt should be quite motivated.

"What I expect out of our fans is to be one of the toughest crowds in America like they are every time we play in the Big East," Brown said. "I really think what happened in West Virginia will influence them to be more rowdy and more hyped. I think it will be a great atmosphere for the players.

"In that last game at West Virginia, we didn't feel like we played as a unit. A couple of plays could have gone our way if we worked harder. We didn't put forth the effort we should have when we played them. We're trying to make up for what we didn't do down there.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon believed the Panthers' practice habits are what led to their poor performance at WVU and also why they rebounded with wins against Seton Hall and Robert Morris after that.

"We have to play well,'' Coach Dixon said. "I think our guys understand they need to improve. We have to be better than the last time we played them.''

If the Panthers can't get it done against WVU, they'll have lots of practice time to work on their game. Pitt's next game is at Marquette Thursday at 9 p.m.

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