Pittsburgh is used to strong starts, but keeping its perfect record intact this weekend won’t be easy.
The 12th-ranked Panthers will be leaving Pittsburgh for the first time this season when they visit Washington on Saturday.
Pittsburgh will be trying for its sixth straight 9-0 start and fifth under coach Jamie Dixon. Using a new, up-tempo offense now that 7-foot center Aaron Gray has graduated, the Panthers won their first seven games of the season - all on their home court - by an average of 30.3 points.
Pittsburgh faced its first real test on Wednesday, scratching out a 73-68 win at crosstown rival Duquesne. Sam Young had 23 points to pace the Panthers, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead but allowed the Dukes to close to within one point several times.
“We came out and attacked them and played hard and went right at them, but we got away from that,” said Young, who leads the team with 18.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. “They weren’t as good as we thought they’d be at the beginning, and they were trash talking a little bit. We let up after that.”
Still, the win gave the Panthers something to build on as they head out on their first real road trip of the season.
“At the end of the season, this is going to be a good win for us on the road,” Dixon said after beating Duquesne. “It’s a big plus for us to come into an atmosphere like this. It’s the biggest game of the year for them and it’s a good game for the city.”
The trip to Washington likely won’t be an easy one, as the Huskies (4-3) have won their last 31 non-conference home games since an 86-62 loss to Gonzaga on Dec. 3, 2003. That streak includes wins over three ranked opponents - North Carolina State in 2004, Gonzaga in 2005 and LSU in 2006.
The Huskies have dropped three of their last four games, but the first two of those defeats came against No. 16 Texas A&M and then-No. 21 Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The third came in their most recent game on Dec. 1, when Washington fell 96-71 at Oklahoma State.
Jon Brockman had 22 points and 13 rebounds against the Cowboys, who shot 58.2 percent from the field and led the entire second half.
“For the first 12 minutes, we did a good job of somewhat controlling the tempo and doing a decent job of defending,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We became a little impatient and lax defensively and they took advantage of it.
“They capitalized on about every mistake we made.”
Brockman leads the Huskies with an average of 19.3 points and ranks second in the Pac-10 with 11.9 rebounds per game.
Washington will be playing its first game without sophomore guard Adrian Oliver, who has decided to transfer because of homesickness. That makes Quincy Pondexter, who is averaging 10.0 points, the only remaining member of a 2005 recruiting class that was considered one of the best in the country.
Also gone from the recruiting class are Spencer Hawes, who left for the NBA after his 2006-07 freshman year, and Phil Nelson, who transferred to Portland State. In five games this season, Oliver was averaging just 3.4 points in 11 minutes per game.
“It’s going to be pretty hard for him not to be on the court with us,” Pondexter said. “I wish the best for him.”