The Dominion Post  

Huggins to teach rivalry with Pitt to his team

Created on:   Thu, Dec 7, 2017   6:25 PM

Last modified:   Thu, Dec 7, 2017   6:25 PM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Asked what he knew about Pitt, WVU men’s basketball point guard Jevon Carter simply replied that the team hadn’t watched any film on the Panthers, yet.

There was no gleam in his eye, no excitement in his voice.

“We just don’t know a whole lot about them at the moment,” Carter said.

This is definitely not your father’s WVU-Pitt rivalry.

WVU head coach Bob Huggins said there would be an effort made — maybe as early as Thursday’s practice — to give a sort of crash-course introduction to the rivalry that used to be WVU and Pitt to his players.

The 18th-ranked Mountaineers (8-1) will travel to the Petersen Events Center, at 8 p.m. Saturday, to face the Panthers (5-4) in a rekindling of the rivalry game.

“We’re going to try and tell them how intense it is for the fans,” Huggins said during a media conference call. “It’s been a great rivalry over the years. There’s been some great games. By my memory, most of them have been on their side rather than ours.

“If they don’t understand, then by the time they walk into the arena, they’ll understand.”

Maybe Huggins and his staff will conjure up memories of dejection, like when Pitt guard Ronald Ramon hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Panthers to a 55-54 victory, in 2008.

Maybe it will be stories of Pitt’s “Oakland Zoo” student section playfully harassing WVU players during warm-ups.

“They kept telling me there were European scouts in the crowd watching me,” former WVU standout Frank Young once recalled.

Truth is, there are hundreds to be told, from the memorable to the forgettable.

Memorable: The late Jack Fleming walking across the WVU Coliseum floor pumping a “Beat Pitt” sign, which is sometimes still shown on the Mountaineers’ video board.

Forgettable: Former Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion being struck in the eye with a quarter thrown from the crowd in a 2010 matchup, at the Coliseum.

“Pitt’s been, you know, Duke-North Carolina, Cincinnati-Xavier; whatever you think the great rivalries of college basketball are, certainly over the years, Pitt and West Virginia have been one of those,” Huggins said.

Much of the fever and intensity of the rivalry, if not all of it, has been lost from the players’ perspectives.

The last time the Mountaineers (8-1) and Panthers (5-4) played — Feb. 16, 2012, a 66-48 WVU victory — both schools were still members of the Big East.

Carter was a sophomore ... in high school.

And in the five seasons that have passed since the last meeting, much has changed.

Former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was installed as Jamie Dixon’s successor, when Dixon fled for his alma mater, at TCU, last season.

The Panthers have struggled — on the floor and with their fan base.

Pitt is 19-21 since Stallings took over and count early losses against Navy and Montana to their record this season.

The Panthers, who have won four in a row entering the game, lead the ACC with 130 committed turnovers.

“Honestly, I think Pitt is getting better and better,” Huggins said. “When you have as many new guys as what Kevin has, it’s going to take a while for them to learn each other’s tendencies and learn to play together.

“I think they’ve gotten much better and Kevin has always done a great job of relieving pressure. He did that for all of those years at Vanderbilt and they run really good things. It’s just a matter of them getting comfortable with each other.”

Pitt’s fan base is the main difference.

In five home games at the Petersen Events Center this season, the Panthers are averaging 2,767 for home games — in an arena that seats 12,508.

In Tuesday’s 82-78 overtime win against Mount St. Mary’s, Pitt drew only 2,333 to the game.

Huggins expects there will be more on hand for Saturday’s game.

“From what I understand, they increased the price for tickets to this game,” Huggins said. “If you increase the price and you’re trying to get people in, you’re probably pretty sure you’re going to have a heck of a crowd.”