WVU vs. Pitt: Back at it again
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Pitt comes bouncing into Morgantown. The close geographical rivals came back to WVU’s basketball schedule last year and lost, 69-60, in Pittsburgh. It was a miserable winter for the Panthers, as they experienced a season with an 8-24 record and finally the firing of coach Kevin Stallings. The much-ridiculed Panthers were winless in the ACC, going 0-18 in conference games.
Long-time Duke assistant Jeff Capel now has the Pitt reins. Although Capel has previously been the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma, he has spent the last seven years as an assistant at Duke.
With a schedule heavy with home games, the Panthers won six of their first seven games this season.
Of course, the WVU vs. Pitt series is filled with memories, more on West Virginia’s side than those made at Fitzgerald Field House and elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
One of West Virginia’s choicest wins came at the Field House close by the Monongahela River. That Feb. 23, 1957 game came during Rod Hundley’s senior year, when freshman Jerry West was unable to belong to the varsity because the NCAA believed tender-aged players had to become acclimated with college life.
The roster of the Mountaineers was jammed with in-state athletes and seven of the night’s nine players for coach Fred Schaus claimed residency around the state.
Schaus’ starters were Nutter Forts Clayce Kisbaugh, who riddled the Panthers with 21 points in 32 minutes. Kisbaugh made 9-of-10 free throws; Shinnston’s Don Vincent, played all 40 minutes and scored 16 points, helped by 4-of-5 free throw accuracy; Charleston’s Bob Smith had 10 points in 27 minutes; long and thin center Lloyd Sharrar braved foul trouble, making all three of his field goal tries while claiming 10 rebounds and scoring nine points; and Charleston’s Hundley, the author of a 39-point game (14-of-23 on field goal attempts) and nine rebounds.
Only Sharrar, from Meadville, Pennsylvania, was from out-of-state.
The noisy crowd poured into every corner of Fitzgerald Field House, giving the Mountaineers some advantage with their 6,800 throats cheering and yelling at various times, in what would become a thunderous 107-93 win by the nationally-ranked Mountaineers.
Intensity came from every angle, and the game officials seemed determined to keep things from simmering out of control.
Pittsburgh was called for 30 fouls and had three players foul out. The Mountaineers were whistled for 28 fouls and lost Sharrar after he played only 20 minutes.
West Virginia’s reserves included Bob Clousson (Clarksburg), who had six points in 20 minutes; Howie Schertzinger (Morgantown), whose 14 minutes were one of his longest on-court appearances of his career; Joedy Gardner (Ellwood City, Pennsylvania), wit four points in six minutes; and Ronnie Retton (Fairview). Sharrar and Gardner were the only out-of-state faces Fred Schaus used.
The Mountaineers went 35-for-51 at the foul line, nearly matched by Pitt’s 25-for-43 showing.
The steamy air in the field house was partially created by West Virginia’s 53-39 lead at the half.
Pitt wasn’t easily dispatched, as Don Hennon scored 38 points, John Riser another 21 and Bob Lazor had 20 points. Hennon played all 40 minutes and Lazor logged 38 minutes.
Just a few weeks later (in early March), West Virginia would be crowned after another Southern Conference tournament championship that sent it off to the NCAA tournament.
And now Pitt is back. The game has a noon start time. Most of West Virginia’s players are from out-of-state. The same for its opponent, as most of Pitt’s players didn’t graduate from high schools in Pennsylvania.
But the intensity will be just as evident as it was back in 1957.
Can you throw out the records in this renewal of the once-fierce rivalry? For this one afternoon you probably can.