MORGANTOWN - There are a lot of things West Virginia will have to overcome tonight in order to have a chance to beat Pitt, not the least of which are a team talented enough to lead the Big East Conference and rank No. 4 in the nation and a home-court advantage unlike many others.
Bob Huggins, though, prefers to look beyond all of that and simply get down to the basics: The Mountaineers can't allow the Panthers to do what they did 21/2 weeks ago in Morgantown, which is dominate inside.
"We're not going to beat anybody giving up 18 offensive rebounds,'' Huggins said. "We've got to do a better job of blocking them out. If we block out better they're not going to get 42 points in the paint.''
Indeed, the first time the teams met, Pitt won 71-66 at the Coliseum because the Panthers - as Huggins said afterward - "manhandled'' West Virginia. The No. 2 team in the country in rebounding margin, Pitt had a 40-28 edge on the boards, had those 18 offensive rebounds and scored 42 points in the paint. With leading scorer Ashton Gibbs out with a knee injury, the Panthers got a combined 28 points and 14 rebounds from Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson on the inside.
Tonight, Pitt (24-3, 12-2 Big East) will have Gibbs and his 3-point shooting back, but the goal remains the same for West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) when the teams play a 9 p.m. game (ESPN) at Petersen Events Center: Don't allow the easy baskets.
"What they got against us the last time, 42 points in the paint, you just can't do that,'' said West Virginia forward Cam Thoroughman. "That's a ridiculous number. I know they have other ways to score, but you can't make it that easy for them.''
In truth, though, it might be harder to stop Pitt from scoring inside tonight than it was the first time the teams played. And that's because of Gibbs.
No, the 6-foot-2 junior guard isn't likely to get a lot of points inside, but he leads the Big East not only in 3-pointers made per game (3.33) but also in 3-point shooting percentage (47.3). After missing three games with that knee injury, he returned to score a career-high 26 points Saturday in a loss at St. John's and made six of his nine 3-point attempts.
West Virginia didn't have to worry as much about guarding the perimeter the first time the teams played and still gave up huge points inside. Gibbs' presence just compounds matters.