PITTSBURGH — There are many different ways rivalries develop.
The best rivalries are because teams play each other year after year at a high level. That defines the games Pitt and UConn have played over the last decade.
The No. 4 Huskies (10-0) and No. 6 Panthers (12-1) have been the two most successful Big East teams the last 10 years, and that success has translated in to heated games in high-profile settings.
Such is the case again tonight when UConn visits the Petersen Events Center at 8:30 p.m. in the Big East opener for both teams. And both teams expect another tight contest because they possess one similar quality.
“Both teams try to out-will you and they try to out-work you,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.
His words were echoed by both sides Monday afternoon. The term “grind” was a popular choice to describe how a Pitt-UConn game is played.
“Every time we play UConn it’s usually a tough, physical, grind-out game,” Pitt center Gary McGhee said. “We both are teams that probably rebound the ball the best in the country. It’s really a tough, gritty game. We really get after it. It’s usually down to the wire, so it’s a really good rivalry.”
Pitt is 6-5 in the last 11 games against the Huskies and each game has been decided by 10 points or less. On all but one occasion, both teams were nationally ranked.
A tight, high-profile game.
“They’ve always been, under Ben (Howland) and Jamie (Dixon) a grind-out team,” Calhoun said. “They’re gonna grind you. They may grind you by 20 (points), but they’re gonna grind you. You’re not gonna get anything (for) free.”
A hot topic of conversation heading in to tonight’s game has been the scheduling of this game.
With the game just two days after Christmas and both schools on break, Calhoun and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon each spoke their mind on the subject.
“It is what it is,” Dixon said. “We don’t make the schedule. The conference does.”
Calhoun was more candid, pointing out he didn’t think it was right to play conference games so early. He said he didn’t want to see an early loss for any Big East team effect them later on when trying to get in to the NCAA Tournament.
“I personally don’t like it, I won’t like it,” he said. “The league’s not gonna change because I don’t like it.”
RESPECT THE PETE
Pitt is 57-10 all time at the Petersen Events Center in Big East play. The Panthers are also 7-0 all time at home against AP top 5 opponents.
UConn puts both records in jeopardy tonight.
“I don’t think there could be a tougher place (to play),” UConn guard Kemba Walker said. “Their student section is one of the best in the country.”
Calhoun joked about his reception at the Pete, especially from Pitt’s student section – the Oakland Zoo.
“I know the fans here particularly love me,” Calhoun said with a smirk. “It’s always nice where you are loved.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog