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U. of Pittsburgh Basketball
NCAA Basketball: Panthers stumble in Sweet 16 for 2nd consecutive year

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Phil Axelrod, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- This isn't the way it was supposed to happen. Not here. Not now.

For the second consecutive year, Pitt's basketball season turned sour in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Chevon Troutman is denied by Marquette's Steve Novak last night in the Midwest Region semifinal in Minneapolis. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

Bob Smizik
Pitt meets the team that dazzles its defense

Wade takes control for Marquette

Zavackas pouts, then sits

Pitt Notebook

Kentucky finds a new ace in win
against spirited Badgers

In a season that began with the most anticipation and highest expectations in school history, Pitt came up short of its goals with a 77-74 loss to Marquette last night in the semifinals of the Midwest Region at the Metrodome.

"I'm sick. It's hard to swallow this loss," said Pitt senior Brandin Knight. "There were a lot of things we could have done better."

Knight paused, then added, "This is it for me."

This loss might have been even more painful than a 78-73 overtime loss to Kent State in last year's tournament.

As the No. 2 seed in the Midwest and ranked No. 3 in the country, Pitt was a slight favorite to get past Marquette, (26-5), which advanced to the regional final against Kentucky (32-3) at 4:40 p.m. tomorrow in the Metrodome.

The Panthers staged a remarkable comeback in the final 3 1/2 minutes but couldn't quite overtake the Golden Eagles. Pitt trailed, 71-61, when the rally began.

Knight ignited the surge with two feeds to Chevon Troutman underneath for layups.

"Chevy kept getting open. I was able to find him," Knight said of Troutman, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who had 15 points and five rebounds.

Pitt pulled within 71-70 with 1:25 left and 75-74 on Knight's two free throws with 15 seconds remaining. Each time, Marquette's Scott Merritt made two free throws to keep the Golden Eagles in front.

"Our players never backed down," Marquette Coach Tom Crean said. "Nobody flinched."

Pitt had a chance to tie the score, but Knight's lunging 3-pointer from the top of the key rimmed off with 4.5 seconds left.

Knight led Pitt with 16 points and 11 assists. Jaron Brown had 14 points and six rebounds and Julius Page contributed 12 points and four assists.

Marquette's Dwyane Wade, a 6-5 junior who was player of the year in Conference USA, had 20 of his 22 points in the second half. During one stretch, he scored 10 in a row for the Golden Eagles.

But for one of the very few times this season, Pitt wasn't able to hold the opponent's hot scorer in check, and the second half belonged to Wade.

"He's got the ability to take over a game," said Marquette guard Travis Diener, who had four points and eight assists. "He carried us. When he gets it going, we try to find him."

But before Wade hogged the headlines, 6-8 Robert Jackson took over. He scored Marquette's first seven points of the second half as the Golden Eagles opened a 41-37 lead. He finished with 16 points, and Merritt, Marquette's other big man inside, had 17.

After the Golden Eagles built their 41-37 lead, Wade scored Marquette's next 10 points with short jumpers, long jumpers, a fastbreak layup and a duck-under 12-foot bank shot to make it 51-44 with 13:57 left.

Donatas Zavackas defends Marquette's Robert Jackson last night. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

His most spectacular play came when he drove the baseline, lost his balance when he was bumped and, while falling to the floor, flipped the ball over his shoulder for an improbable basket. He completed the sequence with a free throw for a 60-51 lead with 9:51 to go.

"I don't know what happened," Wade said. "I'm blessed to be able to do the things I can do. There was a little bit of luck right there," he said, laughing.

"I can't say I practiced that."

Howland switched the anticipated strategy by having Page guard Diener and Brown guard Wade. The matchups worked to Pitt's advantage in the first half because Wade and Diener each managed just two points. Wade's came on a dunk to open the game, and Diener hit a baseline jumper late in the half.

Wade also picked up two fouls that forced Marquette Coach Tom Crean to put him on the bench for long stretches.

The loss to Marquette put a damper on what has been a season to remember for the Panthers, who won their first Big East Conference tournament championship and were as high as No. 2 in the weekly polls four times to match the 1987-88 team for the highest ranking in school history.

The loss snapped Pitt's 11-game winning streak, and the Panthers finished 28-5.

"We're really disappointed. We felt we had a chance to make a run at the Final Four and for the national championship," Coach Ben Howland said. "I'm still basically in shock the season is over."

Now Pitt officials must make a strong effort to keep Howland, who is one of the leading candidates for the job at UCLA.

Associate head coach Jamie Dixon has expressed interest in pursuing the head coaching position at Wright State University, a Division I program in Dayton, Ohio.

"I am really proud of our comeback," Howland said. "We kept our heads up. We're building something here that's special. we have a lot of room yet to grow."

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

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