Since Pittsburgh and Connecticut met in three straight Big East title games from 2002-04, they have yet to face each other in the conference tournament.
That will change Thursday when the No. 3 Panthers play their first game of the event against the 21st-ranked Huskies.Connecticut (23-9) won two of those three championship games with Pittsburgh (27-4), and the top-seeded Panthers enter on a four-game win streak over the Huskies.It's unclear whether it will be an advantage for Pittsburgh to be playing its first game in the tournament while No. 9 seed Connecticut plays its third. The Panthers earned double byes each of the last two seasons and lost their first game both times after reaching the title game from 2006-08.The Huskies are eager for revenge after losing 78-63 on Dec. 27 in the Big East opener for both teams.Junior guard Kemba Walker had never won a Big East tournament game before this year. Walker, who could leave for the NBA, is averaging 16.0 points while going 0-4 in his career against Pittsburgh."Right now we're in a great situation," Walker said. "Pittsburgh beat us at Pittsburgh, and we want to redeem ourselves, so we're not going to let no fatigue beat us."There may not be much at stake for Pittsburgh in terms of the NCAA tournament since coach Jamie Dixon believes his team has already earned a No. 1 seed."I think when you win one of the best leagues outright, you should be in a good position to be a No. 1 seed," Dixon said.The Panthers posted two straight double-digit victories to close the regular season, winning 60-50 over then-No. 19 Villanova on Saturday to clinch the regular-season crown.Pitt's 15-3 Big East mark matched a school record, and it earned its first No. 1 seed in the conference tournament since losing to UConn in the 2004 title game."We did some great things," Dixon said. "First off, winning the conference championship outright in a league that will have about 10 or 11 teams in the NCAA tournament, nobody has ever been a champion in that kind of league, so that's a first. I'm proud of what our guys accomplished."While UConn centers its attack around Walker, Pitt features more balance. That was evident in the earlier meeting, when Walker was the only Huskies player to score more than nine points with 31 and Ashton Gibbs led four Panthers in double figures with 21.The Huskies have enjoyed better balance in this tournament. Walker scored 26 to lead four players in double figures in Tuesday's 97-71 win over DePaul and added 28 as one of three UConn players with at least 10 in Wednesday's 79-62 victory over No. 22 Georgetown."I would hope after these two wins and coming in we have a little momentum going, and we know who we're facing," coach Jim Calhoun said. "We have a great opportunity to beat a terrific, terrific basketball team in Madison Square Garden. What's better than that?"