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117 years, 75 miles, and two words: Backyard Brawl

The rivalry between two schools separated by just 75 miles, and a rivalry that first started in in 1904 will resume on Friday night as West Virginia will host Pitt in the 188th Backyard Brawl.

For many who attend or who are fans of West Virginia, the first two things they are taught are the words to country roads, and to dislike Pitt.

The Mountaineers and Panthers rivalry goes way back and although not as intense as it once was, the hype around this year’s Backyard Brawl is still as great as ever.

Over the past four seasons, West Virginia and Pitt resumed their storied rivalry for the first time since West Virginia left for the Big 12 and Pitt left for the ACC. A four game series which was supposed to conclude last year, got moved to this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

West Virginia comes into Friday night’s matchup having won all three of the games since the conference switch, including their most recent win — a 68-53 victory in 2019. Even though this recent stretch of games has provided close games and large crowds it is nothing like the Big East days.

Take the 2008-2009 season for example; West Virginia lost the two regular season matchups but then beat No. 2 Pitt in the Big East Tournament. Three matchups in one season means more anger, more hatred, and just more of a rivalry. That next season in 2010, the rivalry got national attention when a Pitt assistant coach was hit with an object thrown at him from the stands.

Head coach Bob Huggins recognized a difference in the rivalry between his playing days and coaching days at West Virginia.

“It’s been dead for so long,” Huggins said of the rivalry. “In the Big East days when I first got back here, it wasn’t nearly like it was when I played. You didn’t have all the craziness, it was a basketball game. All the craziness wasn’t involved.”

Huggins added, back in his playing days there seemed to always be a fight, either on the court of off of it.

“There was a fight at West Virginia and Pitt just about every time. If it wasn’t the players fighting with each other it was people in the stands.”

Although Friday night’s matchup will probably not have that craziness, the West Virginia roster knows how important this game is to this season moving forward and the fans.

Senior guard Sean McNeil was one of two players on the roster the last time Pitt and West Virginia faced off. McNeil said playing in rivalry games brings a different type of feeling.

“This game is huge for the school, it’s huge for us, it’s a game that we definitely look forward to every year,” McNeil said. “There’s just always something more electric about a rivalry game, so we definitely mark this one on the calendar, we’re excited.”

West Virginia’s roster includes seven new players, who had not really experienced this rivalry or know anything about it until coming here. McNeil said most of the new players didn’t fully recognize the rivalry until they stepped foot on campus.

“I think that when they decided to come here, they kind of knew what this game was about or had an idea what this game was about,” McNeil said.

One of those new players is fifth year forward Dimon Carrigan, who said he found out about the rivalry the first day he was here.

“The first day I got here they brought up the rivalry between Pitt and West Virginia. I don’t know the history or how long it goes back, but I do know it’s very important,” Carrigan said.

Not only will this game bring back a historic and heated rivalry, but it will be the first time since March 7, 2020, the WVU Coliseum will be at full capacity.

McNeil said having a sold out crowd is exciting for the players and he feels it has been a long time coming.

“Having 14,000 in there it’s long overdue. I know that we’re all super excited for it and we’re ready to hear 14,000 awesome fans,” McNeil said.

Whether this rivalry continues is out of the players and fans control, even though Huggins, the fans, and the players would want this game played on a yearly basis if possible. But until then, nights like Friday night will try to have that same energy, that same spark, that made this rivalry one of the fiercest and best in college basketball once upon a time.

Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography

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