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Friday, March 10, 2006

Panthers Prevail

Panthers Prevail
By John Antonik for
March 9, 2006
  • NEW YORK -- Three is more than two, but not when you make as many twos as Pitt did against West Virginia in the Big East tournament quarterfinals Thursday night. The Panthers clobbered the Mountaineers on the backboards and clamped down on their 3-point shooters to pull out a 68-57 victory and advance to the Big East semifinals to face Villanova.

    "Pitt has a terrific defensive team and I admire the way they play, how hard they play and how smart they play defensively," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "Their quickness and great offensive rebounding was a big difference in the game."

    West Virginia's Frank Young looks for an opening in the first half of the Mountaineers' Big East Conference basketball tournament game against Pitt Thursday, March 9, 2006, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
    WVU Photo Services/M.G. Ellis

    West Virginia was one of three teams with byes to lose Thursday: Syracuse upset No. 1-seeded Connecticut and Georgetown got past No. 4-seeded Marquette, while No. 2-seed Villanova blew out Rutgers in the game earlier this evening.

    For West Virginia (20-10) it was a disappointing outcome to a Big East season that saw the Mountaineers earn a first-round bye for the first time in school history and a No. 3 seeding in the tournament.

    No. 6-seeded Pitt (23-6), which held on to beat Louisville Wednesday night after nearly blowing a 28-point first half lead, had a staggering 19-rebound advantage on West Virginia and turned a lot of those boards into stick-back baskets. Seven-foot center Aaron Gray had a tough first half making just 3 of 11 from close range, but he stuck with it and finished the game with 19 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

    Sam Young, subbing for starting forward Levon Kendall who did not play because of back spasms, complimented Gray in the paint and finished 7 of 8 shooting for 14 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds.

    The board-work was so lopsided that Pitt nearly had as many offensive rebounds (18) as West Virginia had rebounds for the game (25).

    "We were even with them on the boards in the first half -- I think we were up one -- and we needed to take advantage and win the battle on the boards and we clearly did that in the second half," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.

    Six-four forward Mike Gansey tied Frank Young for the team lead with five rebounds, but he spent the remaining 10 minutes on the bench with a Gatorade towel draped over his shoulders with stomach cramps and an abdominal strain.

    "When he dove for the ball with about the 10-8-minute mark, he ended up getting stomach cramps," Beilein said. "Something cramped up in his stomach and he couldn't do much after that."

    After a tough start, the Panthers were finally able to overcome a 12-point deficit by shutting down West Virginia’s shooters. After a J.D. Collins 3-point basket gave the Mountaineers a 27-15 advantage with 3:38 left in the first half, the Mountaineers did not make a field goal for the rest of the half. The shooting drought carried over into the second half with Gansey finally snapping the spell with a driving lay up at 17:46.

    But the damage was done: Pitt trimmed West Virginia’s lead to seven at halftime, 31-24, and tied the game at 38 with 14:12 remaining on a Sam Young bucket.

    Antonio Graves gave Pitt the lead when he was able to come up with a basketball that escaped three West Virginia players under the Panther basket to drop in an easy lay up.

    The two teams exchanged leads three times and were tied at 49 when Pitt scored four straight points on baskets by Levance Fields and Sam Young.

    A driving basket by West Virginia’s Frank Young pulled the Mountaineers to within two, 53-51, but Gray responded on the other end with an easy bucket to put Pitt back up by four. The Panthers extended the lead to six, 57-51, on a Ramon lay up with 2:40 left.

    A Pittsnogle straight-away 3-point basket pulled the Mountaineers to within three, 57-54, and another 3 by Patrick Beilein from the wing cut the Panthers lead to two, 59-57, but Pitt was able to make 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch and kept West Virginia from getting good looks at the basket.

    After its bad start, Pitt finished the game a respectable 25 of 57 for 43.8 percent and also cashed in at the foul line, making 14 of 16.

    "We did something different as far as handling the 1-3-1; we put in a little different offense prior (positioned Gray under the basket and lobbed the ball over the pressure)," said Dixon. "I thought it was better for us and put our guys in a little better position."

    West Virginia wasn’t as accurate from the field, finishing the game hitting 18 of 53 for 33.9 percent. The Mountaineers were 11 of 33 from 3-point range and only scored 26 points in the second half.

    Krauser, Fields and Ramon finished with 10 points each to give the Panthers five double-digit scorers.

    Pittsnogle finished with a game-high 22 points on 7 of 17 shooting. The senior was 5 of 11 from 3-point range. Gansey was the only other West Virginia player to reach double figures with 10.

    "I've been concerned all year that we weren't as athletic as we were last year; D'or Fischer and Tyrone Sally are very quick, very good defensive players," said Beilein. "But we played a difficult schedule and we came in here and we were probably the only 3-seed in the country that played a team that was a 6-seed that was higher rated than us in the nation.

    "It wasn't like we came in here and lost to Cupcake U; this was a heck of a team we just lost to that I think had a tremendous season," Beilein said.

    The two teams split regular season games with Pitt winning in Pittsburgh and West Virginia winning in Morgantown. It was just the second double-digit loss for West Virginia this season. The Mountaineers lost by 14 to Kentucky in the Guardians Classic back on Nov. 22.

    The Mountaineers, having lost five of their last seven and six of their last nine, still have a strong NCAA tournament resume and will now await their post-season destination after the 65-team tournament field is unveiled Sunday evening.

    "Right now we just have to get ready for practice and get ready for the NCAA, whoeever we play, and hopefully make a little run again like last year," said Pittsnogle.

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