Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

February 7, 2011

Backyard Brawl rekindles tonight

BUENA VISTA, Va. — Number 12 wasn’t kind to West Virginia. No. 4 could be just as cruel.

Only two days after dropping a 66-50 decision to No. 12 Villanova, the 25th ranked Mountaineers are back in action tonight, playing host to No. 4 Pittsburgh in the basketball version of the ‘Backyard Brawl’ at the WVU Coliseum.

Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised by ESPN.

West Virginia faces a brutal schedule down the stretch, with seven of its final nine games coming against ranked Big East foes.

That stretch started with a loss to Villanova, and will continue against Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1), whose only losses have been to Tennessee and Notre Dame. The Panthers won 10 straight to start the season, and made it nine more after the loss to the Volunteers.

Since a five-point defeat against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh has won two in a row, led by Ashton Gibbs, who has combined for 49 points in those wins.

After a 12-4 beginning to the season for West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) — which reached the Final Four for the first time last year since 1951 — the Mountaineers have lost three of its last six games, including a shocker against Marshall and Big East tilts against ranked Big East foes Louisville and Villanova.

West Virginia has struggled with personnel issues in recent weeks, losing Danny Jennings when he walked off the bench during a game, and then played three straight without leading scorer Casey Mitchell, who was suspended for a violation of team rules.

Mitchell, who is averaging 16.6 points per game this season, returned against Villanova, but didn’t score while coming off the bench.

In addition to Mitchell, the Mountaineers will turn to Kevin Jones and Darryl “Truck” Bryant tonight against the Panthers. The 6-foot-8 Jones tallies 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds, while Bryant averaged 11.0 points and is second to Joe Mazzulla on the team in assists. John Flowers is scoring 9.8 points and pulling down 6.6 boards per contest.

Pittsburgh is led by Gibbs, a 6-2 guard, who scores 16.3 points a contest. The junior connected for 24 against Rutgers and 25 in a 71-59 win on Saturday against Cincinnati.

Brad Wannamaker is another key component of the Pittsburgh backcourt, collecting 12.3 points and 5.2 assists per game. Gary McGhee, a 6-10 junior, controls the boards, collecting 8.3 rebounds to go with his 7.1 points an outing.

West Virginia, which holds the all-time record in the series at 95-85, will attempt to keep the Panthers from becoming the only school in the last nine years to win 20 games and 10 Big East games in the same season.

The Panthers’ 9-1 league start is also tied for the best in school history.

Pittsburgh, which has won 14 of the last 21 meetings against the Mountaineers, has won five straight on the road, and 17 of its last 23.

However, West Virginia is 24-8 against the Panthers at the WVU Coliseum.

Pittsburgh is 4-2 against ranked teams this season, while West Virginia is 2-2.

West Virginia lost its last meeting against Pittsburgh, a 98-95 three-overtime heartbreaker last February, but the Mountaineers went 12-2 from that point, with the season ending in the Final Four national semifinals against Duke.

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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