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U. of Pittsburgh Basketball
Basketball: Zavackas refuses to explain his actions in defeat

Saturday, March 29, 2003

By Phil Axelrodand Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writerd

Donatas Zavackas stepped off the Pitt team bus and into the afternoon sunlight yesterday near the Petersen Events Center much the same way he spent the previous 16 hours at the Metrodome, in Minneapolis and in transit -- without saying anything to his teammates and coaches.

Pitt's Donatas Zavackas sits on the bench near the end of the the Panthers' loss to Marquette. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

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Zavackas, a Pitt senior forward from Lithuania, still offered no explanation for his actions in the final 9:15 of the Panthers' 77-74 loss Thursday to Marquette in the NCAA Midwest Region semifinals.

"No comments," he said yesterday, sternly yet not as emotionally strident as he was in the locker room after the game.

Zavackas never apologized or offered any explanation for sulking along the Pitt sideline, removing his sneakers and essentially removing himself from an important game in which the Panthers' best 3-point shooter could have helped to affect the outcome.

"It's over," Pitt Coach Ben Howland said. "He's very emotional. I'm sure he's got to be feeling some chagrin over how ... he made a bad decision.

"Kids make mistakes. We've all been there."

Howland then talked about Zavackas' contributions to this season's 28-5 record, to the program's first back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and to the team's 89-40 career record in the career's of seniors Zavackas and Brandin Knight -- making them the Panthers' all-time winningest senior class.

"He had a great career here," Howland said. "I'm not going to let this incident tarnish or diminish what he's helped to build and develop here. I have nothing against Donatas."

Zavackas seemed to be upset with Howland after he was removed from the game with Pitt trailing, 59-56.

He sat on the floor, behind the baseline and by the end of the bench -- where the trainer and managers sit. There was a seat available, but he chose to break the team decorum by what Howland later described as pouting.

Teammates and the people at the end of the bench attempted to talk Zavackas down from his emotional pitch, but he didn't answer.

Finally, when he removed his sneakers, that ended his game for all intents and purposes.

"He took his shoes off," Howland said. "That was it."

While Zavackas sat on the floor and then took a chair along the bench in the final minutes, Pitt mounted a comeback from a 71-61 deficit with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.

In the final seconds, when Knight attempted an off-balance 3-pointer from the top of the key, Pitt probably would have liked to have had Zavackas on the floor. Earlier in the game, he made his only 3-point attempt -- part of his five-point, five-rebound performance in 17 minutes -- and topped the Panthers with a 43.9-percent clip this season from behind the arc. The rest of the Panthers combined to go 3 for 14 from beyond the arc against Marquette.

Carl Krauser said he had words with Zavackas and tried to encourage him.

"It wasn't negative," Krauser said. "It was positive. I was just trying to tell him we need him in the game, stay positive, we need him to win. We didn't get into anything. Just a little team conversation."

Howland said he pulled Zavackas with 9:15 left in the game because he wanted to insert Chevon Troutman into the lineup. The move worked to a degree, as Troutman helped to rally the Panthers in the final minutes by scoring seven of his 15 points (on 6-for-7 shooting).

When the game ended, Zavackas remained seated on the bench and didn't participate in the ritual postgame handshakes.

Zavackas has been a volatile sort throughout his four seasons at Pitt. Early in the 2000-01 season, he was slow to get off the bench and check in as a substitute in a loss at Penn State, and Howland reacted by making him return to the bench. He was on the bench when he was called for a technical foul two weeks ago at the Big East tournament, arguing an official's foul call on a teammate against Boston College.

Just last week, he had a publicized spat with Troutman in a practice the day before Pitt played Wagner in the NCAA tournament's first round in Boston. It was the most recent in a long line of run-ins with Troutman, a redshirt sophomore whom Zavackas battled often in practices the past three years.

Perhaps it was being replaced by Troutman that irked Zavackas. Troutman's playing time increased nearly 300 minutes this season over last season, while Zavackas' decreased by more than 200.

"He's his own man," Troutman told reporters afterward. "If he doesn't want to play, we can't force him to."

"I'm not going to play games, so I didn't play him anymore," Howland added. "He's a great kid. He'll learn from his mistake. But he's never going to get this game back."

Phil Axelrod can be reached at paxelrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1967.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.

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