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March 13, 2008
PITT 76, LOUISVILLE 69 (OT)
OVERVIEW: Pittsburgh always seems to be at its best in the Big East Tournament, and this season is no different. Relying on a gritty defense and some clutch free throws in overtime, the seventh-seeded Panthers (24-9) upset second-seeded Louisville (24-8) on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. This is the Panthers' third consecutive trip to the semifinals and their seventh trip in the past eight years. "We battled through against a very good team, and made plays all the way through," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Our defense has been getting better and better since we've been back to somewhat good health. We've really looked at these last four games in this tournament for us to be ourselves, to be the team that we can be, and that's what we're becoming." Pitt point guard Levance Fields, who missed 12 games with a foot injury, misfired on a long jumper at the end of regulation that would have won the game. But the Panthers dominated the extra period as four players combined to go 10-of-10 from the free throw line. Fields made the final four free throws. Pitt limited Louisville to 37.5 percent shooting from the field and 21.1 percent from 3-point range. Terrence Williams and Jerry Smith combined to go 3-of-20 from the floor.
THE BIG PICTURE: Louisville is in mild jeopardy of losing a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament depending on what unfolds in other league tournaments. The Cardinals, who entered the game 11th in the RPI, should expect no lower than a No. 4 seed. Pittsburgh, which beat Cincinnati in the opening round, put itself in contention for a top five seed with the win. The Panthers were 24th in the RPI and will move up a few spots.
TURNING POINT: Pitt freshman center DeJuan Blair, held to a season-low two points against Cincinnati in the first round, missed two free throws in the final minute of regulation, which helped the Cardinals force overtime. But after being fouled on Pitt's first possession of overtime, Blair knocked down two free throws to put the Panthers up 64-62. The rest of Blair's teammates followed his lead, as Ronald Ramon, Sam Young and Fields knocked down the Panthers' next eight free-throw attempts. Blair finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
WHAT'S NEXT: Pitt faces the winner of Thursday night's Marquette-Notre Dame game on Friday at 9 p.m. The Panthers were 0-2 against those two teams in the regular season, falling at Marquette 72-54 on Feb. 15 and losing 82-70 at Notre Dame on Feb. 21.
NOTES: Pitt's two wins in the Big East Tournament have come against teams that beat the Panthers in the regular season. ? Pitt is just the fourth team out of 26 to emerge out of the 7-10 game and knock off the No. 2 seed in Big East tourney history. ? This was the first overtime game of the season for both teams. ? Louisville coach Rick Pitino is 26-6 in his past 32 conference tournament games.
MARQUETTE 89, NOTRE DAME 78
OVERVIEW: Sixth-seeded Marquette (24-8) continued the string of upsets at the Big East Tournament on Friday night, using a dominating second half to pull away from third-seeded Notre Dame (24-7) at Madison Square Garden. The lower-seeded team won the final three games of the day. "I think this speaks for the conference and how deep it is when you see all the teams that played on the first night come back and beat the team that got a bye," Marquette junior guard Jerel McNeal said. McNeal scored 20 of his career-high 28 points in a second half where the Golden Eagles scored 57 points. It was a particularly satisfying performance for McNeal, who missed the 2007 Big East Tournament with a hand injury. Notre Dame big man Luke Harangody, the Big East Player of the Year, was held to 13 points, eight below his season average, and fouled out late.
THE BIG PICTURE: Marquette is rapidly improving its chances of making a run in the NCAA Tournament. A win over the Irish, who entered the game at 19th in the RPI, certainly should impress the selection committee and gives the Golden Eagles a chance to land as high as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles, who are 21st in the RPI, were in line for a No. 6 seed at the end of the regular season. The Irish could have earned a top three seed with a run to the title game, but they are more likely to receive a four or five seed now. Irish coach Mike Brey, who almost sounded relieved to be out of the tournament, believes his team will bounce back regardless of where they are seeded. "This team hasn't lost two in a row all season, that's how good a year we have had," Brey said. "There are some things we can work on before the NCAA Tournament, but I'll be honest with you: I really like the fact that we're not playing any Big East games next week. I've had enough. I love the league, but we need some fresh faces."
TURNING POINT: Marquette guard Maurice Acker hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to put the Golden Eagles up 76-66 with 3:38 to go. Notre Dame called a timeout after the second 3-pointer, which sent Marquette's players running off the bench to embrace Acker at midcourt. A reserve guard who is generously listed at 5 feet 8, Acker finished with 11 points and three assists.
WHAT'S NEXT: Marquette faces seventh-seeded Pittsburgh (24-9) in the semifinals on Friday at 9 p.m. Marquette cruised to a 72-54 win over Pitt in Milwaukee on Feb. 15 in their lone meeting; Pitt guard Levance Fields missed the game with a foot injury. Fields has since returned and the Panthers have won five of their past six games.
NOTES: Five players scored in double figures for both teams. ? Only one of the top four seeds (Georgetown) has won a game in the tournament. ? Marquette's meeting with Pitt on Friday is the first time the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds have met in the semifinals since 1991. .. Marquette shot 17 free throws in the second half to Notre Dame's two. ? This is Marquette's first trip to the Big East semifinals. ? Notre Dame is 17-0 at home this season and 7-7 on the road and at neutral sites.
WEST VIRGINIA 78, CONNECTICUT 72
OVERVIEW: No one in the nation may be playing better than West Virginia junior forward Joe Alexander, who carried the fifth-seeded Mountaineers (24-9) to a quarterfinal upset of fourth-seeded Connecticut in the Big East Tournament. Alexander scored a career-high 34 points Thursday, his third 30-point game in his past five; he is averaging 29.8 points in that five-game stretch. "We wanted to make Joe the most difficult matchup in the league this year," first-year WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "He can get around bigger guys and has really worked on his post game so he can take advantage of smaller guys. He also shoots it well enough that people have to guard him." UConn (24-8) tried several defenders on Alexander, but he went 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) from the field and 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) from the line. He punctuated his performance by throwing down an emphatic dunk over Stanley Robinson to give the Mountaineers a 75-65 lead with 1:10 to go.
THE BIG PICTURE: This helps West Virginia more than it hurts Connecticut. The Mountaineers, who have a sub-par non-conference resume, now have a shot at a No. 7 seed. Losing to the Mountaineers didn't do significant damage to the Huskies' resume. The Huskies should expect to receive no worse than a No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday.
TURNING POINT: The Mountaineers outhustled the Huskies throughout the game and seemed to win the battle for every loose ball. Despite being the much smaller team, the Mountaineers finished with 42 rebounds to the Huskies' 26. During one key stretch late in the second half, the Mountaineers grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds. The Mountaineers didn't score, but by the time Da'Sean Butler missed a short jumper, they had milked 1:34 seconds off the clock and had a 70-63 lead with 2:07 left. "Some games are very complex. You mull over them, why you won or why you lost," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "This one's very easy: They came out, and they kicked our butt and they outworked us. We were unwilling for 40 minutes to put the kind of effort you need to win a tournament game."
WHAT'S NEXT: The Mountaineers meet top-seeded Georgetown (26-4) on Friday night in the semifinals at 7 p.m. The Hoyas escaped with a 58-57 win in Morgantown on Jan. 26 in their lone meeting. Alexander was held to seven points in that contest.
NOTES: Alexander's 34 points were the most by a WVU player in a Big East Tournament game and the most by a player in the tourney since Pitt's Vontego Cummings had 37 against Villanova in 1998. ? Connecticut has lost its past four games in this tournament. ? No. 4 seeds now have a 17-8 record against No. 5 seeds in the Big East Tournament.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.