Pitt Gets Another Shot At Notre Dame

Seven teams were eliminated before the Pitt men's basketball team even knew which school it would play in its opening game at the Big East Tournament this week at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but now the Panthers know their quarterfinal opponent.

Pittsburgh, which had a double-bye as a No. 2 seed, faces Notre Dame tonight at 7. The Fighting Irish, who beat Pitt 68-53 Feb. 24 in South Bend, Ind., hammered Seton Hall Wednesday night.

"I think it's a good thing, getting an extra day to rest and get our chemistry right for the tournament in practice,'' Pitt sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs said. "It's something we've worked hard for, and since we have the double-bye we want to take advantage of it. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that.''

It's well-known that the Panthers also were the No. 2 seed last season, but they came from ahead to lose to West Virginia in their opener. Pitt had beaten the Mountaineers twice during the regular season, but the third time wasn't a charm for the Panthers.

"We love to go to the Garden, and Coach Dixon has had some success at the Garden,'' Pitt junior guard Bradley Wanamaker said. "Last year was not as successful. We got into foul trouble, but we need to go in there more focused and concentrate on getting the job done. Foul trouble, that's part of the game.

"We still had a chance to win it, but some turnovers let (West Virginia) go up even more. So, we're going to come in this year ready to go, and we'll play hard no matter who we play. We're a very hungry team. I was a freshman on that championship team, but really didn't contribute much.

"So, I have a chance to do more this year, and so do a lot of other guys,'' Wanamaker added. "We all have a good chance to win it this year, so we're going out there with an attitude that we want to win it. And that's what we're going to try to do.''

It might be difficult for some to believe, but Wanamaker led Pitt in assists during the regular season. Not only did he lead the Panthers, but Wanamaker was second in the Big East. However, that's not something that concerns him right now. Instead, Wanamaker is focused on his team.

"We definitely want to win the Big East championship and maybe the national championship,'' Wanamaker said. "That's what we all want to do. ... I learned to always be ready and to be mentally focused from last year's leaders. Those guys were always going into games prepared, and we need to be the same way.

"So, that's what we need to do this year. We need to go into these games mentally focused and work hard from the beginning. But I don't think a double-bye can hurt us. Coach Dixon makes us watch a lot of film, so we know everything about the teams that we're going to play.''

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon noted that the Panthers would watch the Notre Dame-Seton Hall game at their hotel and then immediately go to a conference room to watch video on the winner. Dixon stayed at the hotel as well, while his assistants scouted the game. It's all about maintaining a routine for Dixon.

For Pitt junior center Gary McGhee, it's all about getting back to where the Panthers finished two years ago.

"I just remember at the end, when the final buzzer sounded, running out on the court to celebrate,'' McGhee said. "It was a great feeling, winning the title in the Big East Tournament, the best conference in the nation. So, winning the championship two years ago is something that I'll never forget.

"That team, some people had us not making the tournament at first, but we were able to make a run and win four straight games in four days to win it. We played hard every night, and it was tough. I think we can win it all again this season, but we'll just have to win three straight games.

"It's been a different experience for us, but we've all worked hard to improve every day and improve as a team this season,'' McGhee added. "Watching everybody in practice has been interesting, but we want to keep it up during the Big East Tournament and NCAAs.''

And tonight's game against Notre Dame is just the first step.

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