Thursday, March 26, 2009
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Boston Levance Fields pointed Pittsburgh in the right direction just in time — as usual.
For the second straight game, the orchestrator of the offense took the big shots himself, hitting a 3-pointer with 50.9 seconds left, then scoring off his steal as the top-seeded Panthers reached the regional finals for the first time in 35 years with a 60-55 win over Xavier on Thursday night.
One more win and they'll be headed to Detroit for the Final Four.
"We came in expecting to win two games," Fields said before acknowledging the obvious: "It was dramatic."
The star point guard provided the drama in Pitt's previous win, 84-76 over Oklahoma State. That game was tied at 74 with 2:42 left. Then Fields made a layup and a 3-pointer and the Panthers never trailed after that.
Pitt knows the late-game strategy by now.
"Give Levance the ball," Big East co-player of the year DeJuan Blair said with a laugh.
The last time Pitt was in a regional final was in 1974 when it lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State and star David Thompson 100-72.
"It definitely was big for the players, the coaches and the city," said Sam Young, who led Pitt with 19 points. "It's something we've been waiting for, for a long time."
Pitt (31-4) trailed 54-52 before Fields connected. He then poked the ball away from B.J. Raymond and went in for a layup with 23.9 seconds to go.
"It's just sad that we had to go out the way we went out," Xavier's Derrick Brown said. "The season we had, it was about toughness and finishing what we do. And we didn't finish."
Fields did, scoring 14 points, while Blair had 10 points and 17 rebounds in the East semifinal victory. The Panthers overcame an eight-point halftime deficit.
Pitt plays Saturday against the winner of Thursday night's second semifinal between second-seeded Duke and third-seeded Villanova for a berth in the Final Four.
"We're a confident group," Fields said. "We haven't played our best basketball, but the good thing is we've found a way to make plays when we've needed them."
Fourth-seeded Xavier (27-8) was led by Raymond with 15 points and Brown with 14.
"I thought the shot Levance Fields hit is all about (the poise of) senior point guards," said Xavier coach Sean Miller, who knows something about that.
He was a star point guard at Pitt from 1987 to 1992 and is second in school history in assists.
Panthers coach Jamie Dixon made it to the round of eight for the first time in his six years on the bench after losing in his other two trips to the round of 16. Xavier fell short in its bid for a third berth in the regional finals in six years.
"They pushed us around in the first half, but we responded in the second half like we usually do," Dixon said. "Like I've said before, I never get tired of seeing Levance take big shots. He's made them year after year."
Trailing 37-29 at halftime, Pitt scored the first nine points of the second half — and Xavier missed its first 10 shots — as the Panthers took a 38-37 lead with 14:33 left.
But the Musketeers recovered and went ahead 54-52 with 1:50 remaining when Dante Jackson cut to the basket for a layup.
Fields then had the ball past midcourt before it went into the backcourt off a defender. Fields retrieved it, dribbled into his own end and fired up the go-ahead shot over Jackson.
"We ran our go-to play," Fields said. "I did a little bit of an in-and-out move, got him on his heels a little bit and took the shot. Once I got him back, I took the open shot. I had confidence in it."
Jackson thought he could stop him.
"I thought I had a pretty good challenge," he said.
Fields was in the right place again when Raymond lost control of his dribble. Fields got the ball, pushed it forward and dribbled ahead of the field to put the Panthers up by three.
Xavier's Terrell Holloway made a free throw with 16 seconds left, but Young hit two just three seconds later. After a missed 3-pointer by Brown, Brad Wannamaker made one more free throw for Pitt with 2.6 seconds left.
The Musketeers went just 7-for-29 from the field in the second half when they were outscored 31-18.
But they were solid late in the first half. With the score tied at 27, Xavier outscored Pitt 10-2 in the last three minutes of the half to take a 37-29 lead. Brown started the surge with a 3-pointer and sank another one that made it 35-29.
Blair struggled offensively inside and finished with just two points and four rebounds in the first half. He had eight points and 13 rebounds after that.