March 9, 2007

First, NY Warrior at Cracked Sidewalks has a solid recap from the Marquette perspective. Definitely worth the read.

Go figure, a lot of the deserved attention in the coverage was on the game Aaron Gray had.

Gray put up game highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead third-seeded Pittsburgh (26-6), which will face the second-seeded Louisville Cardinals in the second semifinal tonight.

“He’s been great every night we’ve played him,” MU coach Tom Crean said of Gray. “He’s so strong, if he gets any position inside it’s so hard to guard him. He was catching the ball so deep that we couldn’t get down and get the ball out of his hands or put some pressure on him.”

Sam Young added 17 points and Mike Cook 16 for the Panthers, who made more free throws (27) than the Golden Eagles attempted (21).

Pitt actually making free throws made Gene Collier happy. He also notes that this was Mike Cook’s first BET game and Cook admits some jitters.

“I’m not going to say it was the defense,” he said after slashing for 16 points. “It was just, you know, a big environment for me on a big stage and I came out kind of nervous a little bit. Coach kept me in the game, let me get myself into the game and let me get into the flow. It really helped me out a lot that I was able to get a transition bucket. The second half I just wanted to come out and get rebounds, get some steals and, if the shot was there, just take it.”

Cook had 14 of his 16 after intermission, when Pitt’s shooting started to look unstoppable. The Panthers made six of their 11 3-point attempts, a serious reversal of a condition that, over their previous six games, three of them losses, they were shooting only 29 percent from behind the arc.

Cooks definitely seemed more settled in the second half. In general, though, since his little shooting slump late in the season, he has been more willing to let the game come to him more and less forcing things.

As I said last night/early morning, my sense that it would be a win for Pitt solidified when Barro missed the breakaway lay-in, the media horde, however, seems to have focused on Fields’ bankshot 3-pointer.

Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields looked over to the bench, shook his head and smiled.

His desperation toss with seconds left on the shot clock banked off the backboard and splashed through the net — one of those shots Fields knew he should have called before launching it midway through the second half.

The significance of the banker? Proof that it was Pittsburgh’s night.

Especially because in the postgame, Marquette Coach Tom Crean said (PDF) that was when he thought it wouldn’t be their night.

When Fields made a 27-footer off the backboard, it started to feel like it just wasn’t our night, even though, to me, even though we continued to play very hard.

Of course if it had been James or Kinsella or Fitzgerald, then it would have been no surprise because they do that in practice all the time.

Aw, heck, a little more from the postgame presser.

Q. They made more free throws than your whole team attempted; do you feel the game was won or lost at the free throw line?

TOM CREAN: Most games usually are. At halftime the foul shots were 16-3, and in a physical aggressive game, that’s a tough pill to swallow. That’s the way it was and that’s the way the game was called and just deal with it. There’s no way we got a little shorthanded, and when you take a player like Jerel McNeal out of our lineup that can get to the rim and create so much for himself and for others, that hurts your belly a little bit to get to the line. But that’s why we want to go home, regroup, hope to have him back next week, and let’s see what happens.

But they stepped up. We missed two free throws the entire night; that’s what it was?

Q. 17 for 19.

TOM CREAN: And they shot 41. It’s a tough number, it’s a tough number this time of year. But they earned them and that’s the way it is.

It could read like he was on the verge of complaining about the officiating and then pulled back. The complexion of their offense was so different without McNeal to be a 3d possible slasher from the outside. Fitzgerald just doesn’t bring that. He may be shooting well, but it’s jump shots and not a lot that draws contact.

Then there was this from Aaron Gray.

Q. Did you feel that you fed off the energy of the crowd? It seemed almost like a home game.

AARON GRAY: Definitely. They were announcing the starting lineups and Marquette had a little cheer and our cheer was definitely louder. We were over on the bench saying, all right, Pittsburgh just won round one. It was definitely huge, we got a lot of fan support. We traveled real well. I know I had a ton of people coming up from home to see my last BIG EAST tournament. It’s huge for me, all of the support that I’m getting and all of the support the University of Pittsburgh is getting.

Seems Pitt is now one of the top-3 ticket sellers for the BET since the 2001 BET.

Joe Starkey tries to downplay it as Pitt just doing what it should do. Um, okay. It’s a tournament. Things happen in general. There’s a reason why this is the first time in 10 years the BET had all 4 top seeds in the semis. And of course the fact that Pitt had lost 3 straight to Marquette. Good to know that Larry Fitzgerald and Tyler Palko were at the game, though.

Since everyone has probably read them anyways, just links to the Trib and P-G articles.

great follow up. I was there last night-it was an exciting atmosphere. We traveled really well and I am looking forward to going back up tonight…also as of 11:05 am I have two extras for tonight-if you are a pitt fan, I just need face value.

Comment by scoocher 03.09.07 @ 11:03 am

F*** Tom Crean. Did he forget the D. James banked three when Marquette beat Pitt at the Pete. Or the 2 straight three pointers that he hit before the banked three and the 12 straight free throws they made in that game. James is a player that shoots barely 30% from three and his team is awful at the line. I cannot stand that guy.

Comment by Omar 03.09.07 @ 12:04 pm

Pitt should have been at the free throw line 60 times last night. Aaron Gray got fouled on every play. It was ridiculous. They hacked him all game.

Comment by Omar 03.09.07 @ 12:16 pm

Does anyone know which zone defense we executed last night? It kinda resembled a 3-2??

Comment by MoE 03.09.07 @ 12:41 pm

Hey Schooch – what’s face value on those tickets? I may be interested.

Comment by Matt O 03.09.07 @ 12:52 pm

$85 a piece, you would need to buy both. I can tell you from experience they will go for much more near game time-just thought I would offer to fellow panthers this year.

Comment by scoocher 03.09.07 @ 2:15 pm

Most significant stat of last nite–13 assists,7 turnovers,and only 3 steals. That really limited the transition points from Marquette. We would do well to take that care of the basketball tonite!

Comment by tph60 03.09.07 @ 3:36 pm

A several points they were in a 1-3-1 defense. And several of the guys weren’t sure where they were suppose to be. Dixon first used right in front of his bench and was directing players to the correct spots on the floor. After a few trips they played it smoothly. Probably the first time they used it.

Comment by TMGPanther 03.09.07 @ 3:50 pm

I’d love to see someone look at Pitt’s 3 point % in games where Gray scores over 20.

Comment by J-Maile 03.09.07 @ 4:55 pm

Ask and you shall receive…Gray has scored 20+ points in 7 games this year and in those games Pitt has shot 39.7 %

Comment by PantherDen 03.09.07 @ 8:30 pm

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