Same Old Song

What worked for WVU nine days earlier in its home game against arch-rival Pittsburgh may be what head coach Bob Huggins hopes does the trick again Friday, as he said he didn't expect the Panthers to change much in terms of the scheme they will use for the second round of the Backyard Brawl.

In the No. 4 Mountaineers' 70-51 win against Pitt on Feb. 3, it was an all-out defensive effort that made the substantial margin of victory possible.

West Virginia (19-4, 8-3) held the Panthers' Brad Wanamaker, who averages 12.3 points and 6.4 rebound per contest, without a single point. The guard managed only three boards, as well.

But it was the struggles of guard Ashton Gibbs that really made life difficult for Pitt in that game at the WVU Coliseum. While Gibbs did manage 11 points (still more than five points below his season average of 16.5), he shot only 2-of-13 from the field and managed no assists.

That was largely the result of the defensive work of Mountaineer forward Devin Ebanks. The rangy, 6-foot-9 sophomore has often been tasked with stopping players like Gibbs, who are much smaller than him.

Ebanks has done so more than effectively, becoming perhaps the best on-ball defender Huggins has at his disposal.

"Dev's done that all year," said the third-year West Virginia head coach. "When you say a guy held (Ohio State star) Evan Turner without a field goal in the second half, that kind of tells you how good he is defensively. He's done a great job."

While Gibbs is a key to the Pittsburgh offense, Huggins said he didn't expect his counterpart, Jamie Dixon, to do much different in terms of scheme to try to help get the guard the ball in positions to score.

"They run a lot of staggers for him," he said. "They run some misdirection things for him. But I don't know that a whole lot will change. They'll probably just put some different sets in that we haven't seen."

Since dropping last Wednesday's game in Morgantown, the Panthers have managed to recover by protecting their home floor.

Dixon's squad defeated Seton Hall 83-58 (exacting a bit of revenge for an earlier 64-61 loss to the Pirates in New Jersey) and stepped out of Big East play for the last time this regular season to knock off Robert Morris 77-53.

There should be little problem generating excitement in the Petersen Events Center once more, as the chance at revenge against the Mountaineers should have a capacity crowd amped up once again.

"I think they've sold out since they started playing in the Petersen Center," Huggins said. "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."

But few teams protect their home court like the Panthers have.

Pittsburgh (18-6, 7-4) is 128-11 overall at the facility. Only two programs -- Louisville and Georgetown -- have managed to earn multiple wins over Pitt at the Petersen Events Center.

WVU, which beat its arch-rival 70-66 in the Steel City on Feb. 23, 2005, could join that club with a win Friday night. To do so, it would have to become the first team ranked in the nation's top five to defeat the Panthers on their home floor, as they have won all five games against top five teams played at "The Pete."

But while the Mountaineers have a chance to make a bit of history -- and earn a satisfying regular-season sweep of their biggest rival -- none of that matters much to Huggins.

"(A win) means we're still at three losses (in Big East play) and two games behind instead of being three games behind," he said. "We don't get too up or too down. You don't want to do that, then turn around and lose the next game because of all the emotion you spent in the last one. That's just not the way to do what we're trying to do."


  • Huggins was asked about the impact Fred Schaus had on the men's basketball program at West Virginia.

    Schaus, a former Mountaineer player, coach and athletic director, passed away in Morgantown on Wednesday night at the age of 84.

    "Fred was everything," Huggins said. "When Fred coached here, they were in the polls for 40-some consecutive weeks and they were one of the premier teams in college basketball."

    "I don't know that there are a lot of people that can do the things Fred was able to do in his career. From a great college coach, to a great pro coach (with the Los Angeles Lakers), to a great pro front office guy -- then coming back to college and winning again at Purdue and coming back here and being a great athletic director -- he excelled in every area of athletics that he ever got in."

  • While Huggins said he expects a rowdy atmosphere inside the Petersen Events Center, he didn't expect it to be any different because of the incidents that occurred last Wednesday night.

    Fans threw items on the floor on multiple occasions. An object thrown from the stands hit Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion hard enough to bruise his cheek, and fan behavior issues at WVU have been under intense scrutiny since.

    Huggins didn't think that meant that the Oakland Zoo would be any more hostile than it typically has been.

    "I don't think it will be any different," he said. "It always is (a tough atmosphere). I don't see how it can be any different."

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