Pitt Opens ACC Play Hosting North Carolina

The Panthers and Tar Heels both enter conference play at 10-3

Shelby Cassesse
January 04, 2019 - 9:59 am

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - This time last year, the Pitt basketball team had already won their last game of the season.

It was a 63-59 win over Towson on December 22 and marked the last win before Pitt lost their next 18 games, all of them against ACC opponents. 

The Panthers have already surpassed last year's eight-win mark, and at 10-3, begin a fresh conference schedule against North Carolina on Saturday.

"We had confidence going into conference last year," said senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame. "Things didn't turn out the way we wanted it to, obviously, but I can also say at the same time there is a lot more confidence this year just because of everything that we have going on right now. We've played, you know, decent so far, and I think we actually can show that we're a lot better than we've even shown."

Though a winless conference schedule is a tough pill to swallow, only half of last year's Panthers are on this year's roster. 

Freshman guard Xavier Johnson has grown to become a prominent part of Pitt's backcourt. With 16.3 points and 5 assists per game, Johnson said he's hoping to be a part of the team that grants each member their first ACC win.

"They all told me about last year. They just don't talk about the losing streak they had, but I would say one thing is you have to take care of the ball, and the refs aren't really going to call a lot of fouls. It's going to be like the West Virginia game, kind of." 

North Carolina enters Saturdays game matching Pitt's 10-3 record with losses to Texas, Michigan and Kentucky. The Tar Heels beat the Panthers 96-65 last year, making it their fifth straight win against Pitt.

"Yeah, we're ready," said head coach Jeff Capel. "We're excited. We're ready. We're prepared. I think we've grown. I think we've gotten better from Game 1 until Game 13 into where we are today. We've had an opportunity to have some good practices this week, and we'll be ready to go."

Though Capel has seven seasons as an assistant coach with ACC powerhouse Duke under his belt, he isn't relying on his conference experience to help guide Pitt through the remainder of their schedule.

"How much does it help? I don't know. I mean, you still have to line up out there and play five-on-five and be able to stop someone, be able to score, be able to catch the ball, be able to not turn it over, and do those things. It probably would help more if I could get out there and play. Unfortunately, I can't, or maybe fortunately, I can't."

Pitt and UNC will play in front of one of the bigger crowds the Peterson Events Center has seen in quite some time. The university announced Wednesday that the game is a sellout. 

It will be somewhat of a homecoming for UNC's Cameron Johnson, a Moon Township native who graduated from Pitt in three years and is spending his final years of eligibility with the Tar Heels. 

Though it's uncertain how the Pitt crowd will receive Johnson, Capel says good players don't let it get to them.

"The really outstanding player doesn't do that. I hope Saturday Cam's not outstanding. I hope the crowd does get to him, and it messes with him a little bit, and he can't make shots like he normally does because he's a great shooter. Not a good shooter, he's a great shooter."

Saturday's game will tip off at 12 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. 

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