Pitt-Marquette Preview

If there's been one place that has been a tough venue for the Pitt men's basketball team since the school entered the Big East, that's Marquette's Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

Pittsburgh (19-6, 8-4) looks to snap an 0-3 skein at Marquette (16-8, 7-5) tonight at 9 in a national TV game on ESPN 2.

"They've been good, and we've been good,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "(But) we've had some injuries, and we've been in foul trouble up there, too.

"I think Aaron (Gray) was hurt the one game, but for different reasons it's happened. And we haven't played that many (games). ... So, we need to be healthy, which we are this time, and play smart.''

Pitt redshirt freshman point guard Travon Woodall had a different take on the Panthers' struggles at Marquette.

"A lot of us are going in there 0-0,'' Woodall said. "So, we just want to go out there and get a win, and we'll have a winning record. Even Brad, a junior, he's only 0-1. So, we want to get him to 1-1 and get one for us to go 1-0. And we're not thinking about 0-3 at all.''

Despite losing three starters from last season, Marquette has overcome a slow start and little respect in the preseason Big East poll to enter this contest on a five-game winning streak. The Golden Eagles, who are 12-2 at home, lead the Big East with 42.3-percent shooting from 3-point range.

"It says a lot about their players, that they have a lot of character, that they're willing to fight hard to make up for all the players that they lost who were key components of their team,'' Woodall said. "So, I think we're a lot alike in that way. We both play a lot of smaller guys, but we all have a lot of heart.

"I think we both came out this season with the same attitude, knowing that they picked us last, but we're going to fight until the end to be among the top four and keep fighting to be the best in the Big East. So, I think we're very similar teams in those areas.''

Marquette's leading scorer is 6-foot-6 senior forward Lazar Hayward at 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, while 6-6 junior forward Jimmy Butler (15.3, 6.6) and 6-2 sophomore guard Darius Johnson-Odom (12.4 points) also are top scorers.

Johnson-Odom makes 49.5 percent from 3-point range, while 5-8 senior guard Maurice Acker is playing much better lately and averages 8.4 points per game with 50-percent shooting from long range.

"We've just got to come out and box out with our hands up and play defense,'' Pitt sophomore forward Nasir Robinson said. "(We have to) slide our feet and just communicate on defense, and we should be good on their 3-pointers.

"So, we just have to turn around and find a body, (whether it's) the shooter or a perimeter guy outside shooting a 3. No matter where they are on the court, we just have to find a body. No matter how long the ball shoots out of there (on rebounds), we just have to find a body and box out, and we should be good.''

The Pitt defense leads the Big East with 30.3-percent shooting allowed from 3-point range. But Woodall believed that junior center Gary McGhee would be a key at both ends of the court for the Panthers.

"We definitely know now that (shooting) 3s is going to lead to long rebounds,'' Woodall said. "So, Gary is going to have to guard more on the perimeter, because their big guys also play out on the perimeter.

"So, Gary's going to have to show a little different style of defense, but I know he's very capable of doing it. And the guards are going to have to do a better job of rebounding, too, because there's going to be a lot of long rebounds. You really need a team effort on the boards against a team like Marquette.''

And when the Panthers hold a rebounding edge, they usually win the game.

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