MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With a five-year hiatus that saw each of the teams leave the Big East Conference, the Backyard Brawl as a rivalry no longer holds the same amount of meaning that it once did for the two programs.
But it’s still a passionate rivalry, as evidenced by the 13,670 fans all wearing some shade of blue and yellow that packed into WVU Coliseum on Saturday.
For the second straight season and third straight time overall, West Virginia came away with a victory. But the Panthers will get two more shots under the current contract, which runs through 2020, and both head coaches seemed just fine with continuing the series after the game.
“I think it’s good for both schools,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Obviously, you’re going to get a good crowd. … They sell their place out, we sell our place out, what’s bad about it?
“It’s a rivalry,” Capel said. “They’ve been playing this for a long time. There’s a lot of emotion in the game.”
There was a lot of emotion in the game, and the physical nature of the matchup seemed to generate enough animosity between the players to more than make up for any lack of history they may have had coming in.
“To be honest, it didn’t really feel like a rivalry,” Pitt point guard Xavier Johnson said. “I guess it’s a rivalry, so I’m going to treat it like a rivalry.”
Huggins, perhaps the game’s biggest proponent, particularly while he was blocked from scheduling the game by former Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon, admitted that the game lacked the same intensity coming in.
“Honestly, I think it’s going to take a while before West Virginia-Pitt becomes what it was,” he said. “There’s been a long time in between games. I think it’s still a rivalry because it’s close enough for both fans to get to either place, but it’s not what it was.”
But the game combined for 49 personal fouls and probably could have had a few more, including two double technicals and more than one post-whistle skirmish.
“They’re a team that, they foul the whole time and the refs don’t call it,” Johnson said. “That’s just their playing style.”