Backyard Brawl - Part II

Finally, it has arrived. After weeks of anticipation, the basketball edition of the Backyard Brawl will tip off at 7:00 Saturday night in the WVU Coliseum.

A sold out crowd will be packed in like sardines as the Mountaineers look to continue their recent success.

So Pitt's coming to town, sold out Coliseum, night game, anything else? Oh, wait that's right: there's a birthday in the house. Saturday night will be the celebration for 100 years of West Virginia basketball, which began Feb. 20, 1904, when the Mountaineers took out Western University of Pennsylvania, which is now Pitt (even though the current Panther administration doesn't count that game). Around one hundred former Mountaineers are expected to be on hand to help celebrate the milestone, and it will only add to the excitement under the big cupcake.

The Mountaineers (14-8, 6-5) have been mentioned in several publications the past week as being "on the bubble" for the NCAA tournament. A win over fourth rated Pitt would certainly do a lot of good as far as getting off that bubble and into serious consideration. However, let's not get ahead of ourselves though, because Pitt is an exceptional basketball team. Just like Villanova last week, four out of five starters average in double figures.

"It's just like if Duke or Kansas were coming in, that's how good they are," proclaimed head coach John Beilein.

As noted in an article earlier this week, the Panthers have very few, if any, weaknesses. Their frontcourt is rock solid, and their backcourt hardly ever makes a mistake. At the same time, they haven't played in an atmosphere quite like the Coliseum will be on Saturday night.

"We have to control their players. (Carl) Krauser has really stepped up this year," noted Mountaineer guard/forward Joe Herber. "And Jaron Brown does a little bit of everything for them. They are a very good team that makes few mistakes."

In order to stop the Panthers, the Mountaineers can't focus on just stopping one player. To win the game, West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone defense will have to contain all five Pitt players on the court. Beilein's crew has had a week since last Saturday's win over Villanova to prepare for the Panthers. Is that a positive thing, or a negative thing?

"We won't know until tomorrow night if having a week off is a good thing or not," explained Beilein. "It certainly has been a long week waiting for this game, but we have been able to shore up things that we needed to work on after last week's game."

Hopefully for Mountaineer fans the adjustments made in the past week will be enough to give the Mountaineers what arguably could be their biggest win under Beilein, and keep the good guys rolling towards postseason play.


Despite being a relatively new part of Mountaineer basketball, Beilein is proud of the history of Mountaineer basketball.

"Look up at those banners. There is a lot of history in this program," the coach said while gazing toward the roof of the Coliseum, which is scheduled for a facelift this summer.

Among the things planned for Saturday night's celebration is a cameo appearance for throwback uniforms. The Mountaineers will come out in replicas of the road uniforms worn in the 1950's.

"I think it's a good idea," said Herber, "but things like that don't excite me too much. Maybe you should ask D'or?"

* * *

The fourteen wins the Mountaineers have picked up so far this year are one more than they had all lase season. While fourteen was certainly an improvement over eight from the 2001-2002 season, you get the feeling that this team isn't quite satisfied yet. Just ask Herber.

"Last year we kind of stumbled to fourteen. Now, we're on a little bit of a roll. This year, we're still hungry, but we can't get ahead of ourselves. We have to take it one game at a time."

* * *

It seems only fitting that on a night where the history of Mountaineer basketball is celebrated, John Sanders will be sitting courtside calling the game for ESPN Plus. Sanders has been somewhat of a staple for Mountaineer games since joining the Big East.

While he doesn't receive the notoriety or fame that Dick Vitale or any of the other big name TV guys do, Sanders does a solid job bringing the game into the living rooms of viewers across the area. Also, if memory serves me correct, WVU has not lost a home game this year when Sanders is calling the action.

Joining Sanders in the booth on Saturday will be former Panther Charles Smith, who later went on to play in the NBA for the Knicks, Spurs, and Clippers.

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