Pitt hits the road to face No. 1-ranked Connecticut

By Jay Huerbin

The last time Pitt took on a No. 1-ranked team, it headed to Storrs, Conn. in 2006 to face the… The last time Pitt took on a No. 1-ranked team, it headed to Storrs, Conn. in 2006 to face the Connecticut Huskies. History repeats itself Monday night as No. 4 Pitt (23-2, 10-2 Big East) matches up against the nation’s best team, again in Connecticut.

‘We did a great job preparing for this,’ said Pitt senior Levance Fields, who leads the conference in assists. ‘Now the stage is set.’

Fields was one of five Panthers to reach double digits in points against Cincinnati on Saturday to get the team ready for their game against the Huskies (24-1, 12-1 Big East).

‘We have to go beat a very good team on the road, which is always a challenge,’ said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. ‘We’re number one in the RPI right now, though, so obviously we’ve been doing something right all year.’

Part of the success for the team has been the increase in shooting percentage, along with the play of the Panthers’ bench. There’s no doubt that Pitt’s bench, which has made good contributions for the team all season, will need to be ready against Connecticut. Both Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown have been averaging more than 18 minutes per game.

‘Gilbert Brown is a very important player for us,’ said Dixon. ‘We’ve been talking about getting more out of him.’

The Huskies enter Monday night’s game having defeated Seton Hall on Saturday and tying a school record for best conference start. Much of Connecticut’s success this year is the increased role of junior center Hasheem Thabeet.

After posting 20 rebounds and 25 points against the Pirates, Thabeet is now third in the Big East in both rebounds per game (10.5) and field goal percentage (64.6).

‘He started against us here his freshmen year and that Connecticut team didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament,’ said Dixon. ‘Now, two years later they’re the No.1-ranked team in the country. That shows great improvement.’

Still, the Panthers might have found some pregame luck when Connecticut junior guard Jerome Dyson injured his knee during the Huskies’ game against Syracuse on Feb. 11. Dyson started all of Connecticut’s games and averaged 13.2 points per game before the injury.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said that while he’s disappointed in Dyson’s injury, he thinks there are several players on the team who are capable of stepping up.

Monday night’s matchup will be the first of two games between these teams this season. They meet again March 7 in Pittsburgh.