PITTSBURGH — The Backyard Brawl is a rivalry like no other.
Friday’s game was the 187th meeting between the two teams, but only the third consecutive year they have played one another. When both Pitt and West Virginia were members of the Big East Conference the teams would play two games a year, one at each area.
After the Big East collapsed, WVU joined the Big 12 and Pitt moved to the ACC the rivalry went dormant for four seasons. The programs reconnected in 2017 and have played three straight years since — all WVU wins.
Bob Huggins has as much experience with the Backyard Brawl as anyone in the modern era of WVU basketball and, if it were up to him, West Virginia and Pitt would continue to play every year.
“The way we travel in our league, it’s refreshing to jump on a bus and ride an hour, believe me,” Huggins said following the 68-53 WVU win. “It’s been such a great game for so many years and it’s been such a great rivalry for so many years.”
Beyond the convenience of travel, Huggins and his players know how much this game means to the fanbases.
“The reality is, we don’t need them and they don’t need us, really,” Huggins said. “It’s not like either one of us can’t find other games, it’s not that. You can’t find meaningful games, like this is for the fan base.”
“Our state is full of die-hard fans and they know how big this game is for us,” sophomore wing Emmitt Matthews Jr. said. “You could just feel the passion from the fans and how they feel about this game.”
“It’s a big rivalry game. We expected a sold-out crowd, a big crowd. It pushed us,” Pitt forward Justin Champagnie said. “We’ve got to play. We’ve got to fight. We’ve got to defend our home. But they had a lot of their fans here, too. It was 50-50 up there.”
Despite being a road game for West Virginia, the Mountaineer faithful traveled well and were loud all night long. Nearly half of the 11,725 fans at The Petersen Events Center could easily have been cheering for West Virginia. Loud chants of “Let’s go Mountaineers” and other, less savory, chants, rang out throughout the arena as WVU started to pull away in the second half.
“I never understood the meaning of hostile (environment),” Huggins said. “I didn’t see anybody with spears or knives, machine guns or anything like that. I just thought it was a whole bunch of people who paid some money to come in here and watch a good ballgame.”
If Huggins has his way, the Backyard Brawl would transcend every sport the two schools have.
“I don’t know why we don’t play every sport,” Huggins said. “If we played baseball every year, we’d end up having a good baseball rivalry. They’d end up drawing more people here, we’d end up drawing more people there, what’s wrong with that? That’s probably why I’m not an AD.”