Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Morning Shootaround: Two Big East Teams reach the Final Four

The Elite 8 started out with a bang, as UConn and Missouri played a competitive game out in the desert while Villanova and Pitt battled in what was probably the best game of the tournament to date. So that means we now have two Big East teams headed too Detroit, and if Louisville can knock off Michigan State, there will be three teams from the same conference advancing for the first time since 1985.

Villanova 78, Pitt 76: Best game of the tournament to date. Villanova jumped out to an early 18-8 lead. Pitt would slowly work their way back, cutting the lead to three on a number of occasions before Levance Fields finally tied it up with a three pointer. Pitt would eventually take 34-32 lead into the break.

The second half was back-and-forth. All told, there were 15 lead changes in the game, but six of them came in the last six minutes. Pitt would eventually take a 67-63 lead with 3:24 left, but Villanova would respond with a 10-2 run to take a 73-69 lead with just over a minute left. But Sam Young responded by hitting a three to cut the lead to 73-72. Nova would hit three free throws before a DeJuan Blair lay-up made the score 76-74.

That's when it got good.

Reggie Redding took the ball out of bounds and tried to hit Dante Cunningham deep, who he thought was wide open. Jermaine Dixon made a play and intercepted the ball, and Fields got fouled with 5.5 seconds left on the clock. He hit both free throws.

This was the ensuing inbounds:

Pitt made a huge mistake on this play when they were doubling Reynolds. They had a player on each side of him. You are supposed to put someone in front and someone in back, because if Reynolds gets a running start going sideways, that doesn't hurt you. But Reynolds was able to get a running start going straight at the rim, and not wanting to foul, Pitt allowed him to get all the way to the paint. Game over.

Reynolds, who was named the East Region most outstanding player, finished with 15 points. Dwayne Anderson led the Wildcats with 17 and 4 steals. Sam Young had 28 points and Blair added 20 and 10 boards for the Panthers.

UConn 82, Missouri 75: UConn was too big for the Tigers in the first half. It took a while for Missouri's press to really start clicking, as UConn broke it with ease in the first half, taking a 13-2 lead.

Mizzou wasn't going to go away, however. They drew an early foul on Thabeet, and took advantage when he went to the bench. The Tigers were able to get the lead to one, before heading into the break down 44-38. In the second half, however, Mizzou's press started to work. They forced 17 turnovers on the game, 9 coming in the second half, before finally taking the lead 50-49 after a 9-0 run. The game would be back-and-forth for a while, but UConn would eventually regain control.

But the guy that took over wasn't AJ Price. It wasn't Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, or Stanley Robinson. It was 6'1" freshman Kemba Walker, who almost single-handedly broke Mizzou's press in the second half. For the game, Walker scored a career-high 23 points and added 5 assists. After Mizzou cut the UConn lead to 59-58 with about five minutes left, Walker took over. He broke the press, finding Adrien (who was fouled), then scored on a lay-up breaking the press on the next possession. After getting a stop, Walker found Thabeet for a lay-up, opening a 65-59 lead that Mizzou would never recover from.

Leo Lyons led the Tigers with 13 points. Thabeet had 13 boards on the game, but finished with just 5 points and 0 blocks.

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