From one end of the country to the other, Washington and the University of Pittsburgh meet again today in the finale of a two-game home-and-home...
From one end of the country to the other, Washington and the University of Pittsburgh meet again today in the finale of a two-game home-and-home series.
From one spectrum to another, as well, as today’s game may hardly resemble last year’s meeting in Pittsburgh.
That contest, won by the Panthers 65-61, featured two eventual draft-pick centers — UW’s Spencer Hawes and Pitt’s Aaron Gray — and had the pace to match, each team slowing it up to get it inside.
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Now, with Hawes and Gray gone, each team is picking it up a notch — the Panthers are averaging 82 points a game this year compared with 71 last season, while UW is at 79 compared with 76 last season.
“We’re both playing more up-tempo this year,” said Pitt point guard Levance Fields.
Pitt, however, is doing it more successfully so far, having adequately replaced Gray and two other starters to bust out to an 8-0 start and a No. 12 rating in The Associated Press poll (No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll).
The first seven of those games, however, came at home against overmatched foes — the other was a five-point win at intracity rival Duquesne.
“We’ve pretty much done what we should have done,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “Now we’ve got to go out on the road.”
The Huskies, meanwhile, have fallen to 4-3 after a 3-0 start, losing 96-71 last Saturday at Oklahoma State in a contest that began to raise some doubt about where this season is headed and only increased the importance of today’s game.
It’s early, to be sure, but the Huskies are at 177 in the Ratings Percentage Index and could use a few victories against the better teams on their schedule if they want to stay serious about playing in March.
“We need to get some of these wins against big-name teams to help us with our chances to make the tournament this year,” agreed UW guard Ryan Appleby.
Appleby might finally get a chance to help in that quest today as he is expected to make his season debut after missing the first seven games with a broken thumb.
Appleby has practiced all week, and though he has suffered some soreness at times, progressed enough that UW coach Lorenzo Romar said Friday he would “be available” to play against Pitt.
The senior from Stanwood is UW’s best three-point shooter, and the Huskies hope his return will help smooth out an offense that has sometimes struggled, especially as Jon Brockman has gotten increasing attention with double-teams after a fast start to the season.
Appleby said he hopes his return will allow UW to “space the floor a little bit better.” Other teams, he said, won’t be able “to just set a guy in” behind Brockman every time.
Nothing figures to come easy against Pitt, however, which has long been one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Panthers are allowing foes to hit just 36 percent of their shots (UW’s opponents are making 47.8 percent). Pitt is led by a veteran backcourt of Fields and Ronald Ramon, who have led the Panthers to an assist-to-turnover ratio of 153-100 (UW is at 111-118), and junior forward Sam Young, who is the team’s leading scorer at 18.6 per game.
The Huskies are expected to go with the same starting lineup of Brockman, freshman Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Quincy Pondexter, with Justin Dentmon and freshman Venoy Overton in the backcourt.
The Huskies are looking for a better defensive performance than turned in at OSU when the hosts hit 32 of 55 shots overall and 11 of 21 from three-point range. Washington entered the season emphasizing defensive improvement, but so far, opponents are shooting better than they did a year ago, especially from three-point range — 40 percent this season compared to 33.9 percent last year.
The Huskies will have a week off after today before playing host to Portland next Saturday.
• This is Pitt’s first trip to Seattle since 1950, when the Panthers played here twice as part of a 15-day, eight-game journey that also included two games at Oregon State.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org