March 02, 2004

Providence hosts Pittsburgh in Big East showdown
(6) Pittsburgh (25-3) vs. (12) Providence (20-5)
Game Info: 7:30 pm EST Tue Mar 2, 2004

Pittsburgh seemed headed to the Big East championship just days ago. Now Providence can put itself in position to win the title for the first time.
The 12th-ranked Friars can move closer to the top seed in the Big East tournament when they host the sixth-ranked Panthers on Tuesday in one of the biggest games in years in Providence.

Providence (20-5, 11-3) and Pittsburgh (25-3, 11-3) are tied for second in the Big East, a half-game behind No. 7 Connecticut. The Friars seem to be in the best position to emerge with the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Friars will own victories over the Huskies and Panthers if they win Tuesday. So if they followed that with a victory over Boston College, they will do no worse than tie for their first regular season conference title.

``Our guys continue to impress me with everything they do. The maturity level is outstanding,'' Providence coach Tim Welsh said. ``They're feeling it now. They're feeling good about themselves and they realize great things could lie ahead.''

Providence has won six straight Big East games for the first time since 1986-87, the season it went to the Final Four under Rick Pitino. The Friars also are looking for their first 12-win season in Big East play.

Pittsburgh had led the Big East for most of the season before Sunday's 49-46 overtime loss to Syracuse. The Panthers shot just 30.9 percent and had their 40-game home winning streak snapped.

The Panthers had won their previous three games, but haven't been dominant lately. Each of Pittsburgh's last six games has been decided by 10 or fewer points.

``We are playing very good teams and we haven't executed well,'' Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. ``Against good teams you have to do a little more.''

Still, a win Tuesday would put the Panthers in good position to earn the No. 1 seed as they look to defend their Big East tournament title. But the loss Sunday now could mean a second- or third-place finish, which could force Pittsburgh to beat either Providence or Connecticut just to return to the championship game.

``Every game is a big game,'' Dixon added. ``We were going to have to go up there and win regardless of what we did today. Each game is important, but I don't think it's any more important now.''

This will be the first game between top-15 teams in Providence during the regular season since the 12th-ranked Friars beat No. 14 Holy Cross 90-64 on Jan. 18, 1978.

``It's for first place in the Big East and the conference title,'' Providence star Ryan Gomes said after the Friars scored a Big East-record 62 first-half points in Sunday's 103-78 rout of St. John's. ``It's us being where we wanted to be and we've been working hard since October to get to this point.''

Pittsburgh won both meetings last season, increasing its lead in the series to 21-16.

No comments: