Pitt-UConn Preview

DeJuan Blair can carry Pitt a long way.

Some described Pitt's regular-season finale against Connecticut as the most important game in the Petersen Events Center's history, and since the Panthers can become only the seventh team in college basketball history to defeat a No. 1-ranked team twice in the same season that certainly rates the game highly.

When No. 3 Pittsburgh (27-3, 14-3) plays host to No. 1 Connecticut (27-2, 15-2) today at noon at the Petersen Events Center, the Big East regular-season title will be on the line as well. The Panthers also can secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, if they haven't already, with a victory.

And it will be the final home game for Pitt seniors Levance Fields, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs, the trio that is one win away from setting a school record for wins by one class. All that certainly make this game as important as any.

Plus, the game will be a national broadcast on CBS-TV with Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery calling action.

"I've talked about it often, since we brought (this class) in, that they're the best (recruiting) class that we ever brought in,'' Dixon said. "I've always thought that. They might not have been ranked highly, but I think they've lived up to our statements early on.

"And what are they, tied for the most wins (in a four-year period)? Obviously, they've had a profound impact on our program, and they're different in so many ways on and off the floor. And they've all been contributors from Day 1 since they got here, and that's very rare.''

While the majority of those watching the game will be concerned with Blair-Thabeet II, the rematch between Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair and UConn center Hasheem Thabeet. Blair dominated the 7-foot-3 shot-blocker Feb. 16 with 22 points and 23 rebounds, as the Panthers knocked off No. 1 UConn at Hartford's XL Center, the first time in school history that Pitt beat a top-ranked team after failing 12 times.

A victory this time would be the ninth occasion that one team beat the No. 1-ranked team twice in the same season. Georgia Tech actually accomplished the feat three times in one season. North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Missouri and CCNY are the only programs to knock off a No. 1 team twice during the same season.

The last time a team did that was 11 years ago when North Carolina knocked off No. 1 Duke twice in about a five-week span.

"I wasn't aware of that,'' Pitt junior guard Jermaine Dixon said. "It would be nice to beat a No. 1 team twice going into the Big East and the NCAAs. So, that would be great to do that. ... And I think they're going to come out with more fight than before, especially Thabeet.

"He's going to be ready for a big game after what happened the last time with DeJuan. And you know DeJuan will be ready. They want to win, too, to win the Big East. So, you know it's going to be a war. (And) I think Thabeet will try to be more physical against DeJuan.

"After DeJuan (dumped him),'' Dixon added, "I think it made him take a step back. I guess he was hurt, but I think he'll try to be more physical with DeJuan. But DeJuan's a real physical guy, so he'll be ready for that. That's what DeJuan loves, so anybody who tries to get physical with him, that's right up his alley.''

Biggs also will be battling in the paint with UConn's forwards, and he had an interesting viewpoint.

"I'm going to be down there, too, so it's going to be a good matchup inside,'' Biggs said. "Very physical. (And) it's very important for us to get this win at home. For me, Sam and Levance, surpassing Brandin and them for the most wins, that would be very special to do that at home.

"We know it's going to be a physical game, and we're ready for it. So, we're going to play our game and do what we need to do. ... I'm used to being here all the time, so it's going to be tough not being here since this is my final home game. I'm going to try to leave a real good impression before I go.

"I'm going to take it as another game and just go out and play hard,'' Biggs added. "It's my last one, and I'm going to do what I can to make it memorable. It would mean a lot to go out with a win. We've got great fans here, and ... we want to keep a perfect record here and do it for everybody.''

And that's what makes this game the most important in the history of the Pete.

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