Pitt players make their way home

By Alex Oltmanns

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sports fans aren’t getting their dream interstate Super Bowl matchup… Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sports fans aren’t getting their dream interstate Super Bowl matchup this week. But even if it’s not as high profile as the Super Bowl, fans will still get to see teams from their cities square off against one another when the Pitt men’s basketball team travels to Philadelphia to take on the Villanova Wildcats tonight at 7. The game will be a homecoming for Pitt players Brad Wanamaker and Nasir Robinson, who were both standout high school basketball players in the Philadelphia area. Between the two players, about 40 family members and friends are expected. ‘It feels good to get a chance to go home and play in front of my family and friends,’ said Robinson. ‘I’ve always wanted to play on that floor in a real-live game.’ That floor ‘mdash; inside the Wachovia Spectrum ‘mdash; has been a monumental piece of Philadelphia history since it opened in 1967. The game tonight will be the last college contest ever played there. Robinson said he’s seen a number of Philadelphia 76ers games during his time growing up around the city and has always imagined playing in front of the crowd there. He’ll get that chance tonight. Robinson ‘mdash; a freshman ‘mdash; has seen his numbers increase recently because of solid play both in practice and during games, and he’s beginning to get more comfortable on the floor. Much of that is because of the type of basketball he played growing up at Chester High. ‘Coming from Chester, we always played in a big atmosphere,’ he said. ‘At Chester High, we’d have a big crowd every night. Some people get scared of lights and a crowd, but I grew up playing around it.’ The strong minutes from Robinson off the bench has helped the No. 3-ranked Panthers 18-1 (6-1 Big East) look impressive in their last two games after suffering their first loss of the season at Louisville. Off the bench, Robinson ‘mdash; who has lost about 15 pounds since coming to Pitt ‘mdash; has been active on the offensive end and strong defensively. ‘He’s a guy who brings energy,’ said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon of Robinson. ‘I think he’s a guy who maybe should’ve played some more in some games. I think we’ve got to continue to get him in there. He has a good understanding for the game.’ But minutes off the bench can’t do it all. Much of the Panthers’ success in the two-game win streak can be attributed to senior forward Sam Young’s ability to regain his jump shot. In Pitt’s three games before its current winning streak, Young shot a combined 15 for 49 from the field including 6-of-20 against Louisville. But in the last two games, Young has gone 12-of-14 and 9-of-14 from the floor. This is partly attributed to the fact that he was once again able to drive to the basket and create high percentage shots for himself. He scored 22 points in both games, enough to earn him Big East Player of the Week honors. Another key to the team’s ability to bounce back from the tough loss has been sophomore center DeJuan Blair’s ability to stay out of foul trouble. This problem plagued the Panthers in their lone loss, as Louisville attacked Blair, confining him to the bench for much of the game and limiting his play to only 20 minutes. The center has seemingly re-adjusted his game to counteract opponents’ strategies to come right at him, which caused him to pick up cheap fouls. In the last two wins, Blair recorded 33 and 29 minutes respectively. No. 21 Villanova 15-4 (3-3 Big East) comes into this game off a win at South Florida following a tough loss at Connecticut. Yet, while the Wildcats record is respectable, they have no marquee wins, going 0-4 against ranked opponents. But Pitt knows that trend can change. Villanova coach Jay Wright, who has led a resurgence of the program since he took the job in 2001, has built teams around dominant guard-oriented play with typically one strong big man inside. This formula holds true this season again, with three guards ‘mdash; junior Scotty Reynolds and sophomores Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher ‘mdash; running the offense efficiently from the perimeter. Robinson knows it. ‘I’ve played at camps with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes,’ said Robinson. ‘We’ve got to watch their guard play.’ Reynolds is averaging 14.7 points per game with 4.2 assists. Stokes and Fisher are around 10 points per game. The dominant big man in the middle comes in the form of 6-foot-8 senior forward Dante Cunningham. He is averaging 16.6 points per game with 7.2 rebounds. After facing the Wildcats, Pitt will host Notre Dame at home on Saturday.