March 18, 2007

Maryland and Washington State blew it. UCLA, Pitt, UNC and Ohio State all nearly blew it. Safe to say that it’s better to be in the “almost lost” rather then the “lost” category. So, admittedly, I’m hard pressed to be very negative. It’s single elimination and it doesn’t matter how you won, just that you did.

I mentioned it yesterday after the game and in my AOL post. VCU, for 3 straight games, mounted tremendous late second half runs to get back into games — and in two of them got the win. The part that still impressed me so much about Pitt was that they didn’t quit in the OT. They had lost a 19 point lead. Levance Fields had missed a couple FTs with 2.1 seconds left that could have ended it there. Every intangible and externality was against Pitt. But in the OT — and this was a huge difference from say Xavier — the Pitt players didn’t panic, slump down or give up. They gathered themselves and came out and finished the game.

Now to what everyone else is saying.

Gene Collier’s headline seemed negative about the game, but ultimately the column was about Levance Fields finding redemption in the OT.

For full disclosure, I wouldn’t have given a Buffalo nickel for Pitt’s chances in that overtime. The Panthers were either sick or exhausted or acutely disappointed, if not all three. VCU’s astounding confidence appeared to be climaxing.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Jamie Dixon would find himself saying at the end of that five minutes. “Once we got into overtime, I think we showed our true character and they really had their spirit come out in the OT. I’m proud of them, but I’m not at all surprised.”

That’s one of us.

Pitt started the extra period the way it started the game, pounding the ball low to virus-wracked Aaron Gray, and quickly established a three-point lead that Pellot-Rosa sliced to one with two free throws.

Were Pitt to begin losing oxygen again, it would probably be now, with the VCU press all set. But the Panthers pushed the ball past the time line with maybe a second to spare, and got it into the hands of Fields, who was ready with the second big THUMP!

Fields stepped back from the 3-point line at the left wing (oh you wouldn’t) and fired a signature back-arching 3 over Pellot-Rosa that was about as bashful as the Brooklyn night.

That unlikely shot and all its audacity — the shooter had just missed twice from 15 feet with no one near him — shook VCU for the last time. On the next possession, Fields found Ramon on the right wing for another 3 that made the score 78-71 with 2:11 left, a lead big enough even for a choking victim.

Fields and Kendall both attributed the VCU run to letting up a little soon. I have to say, maybe. It’s good that they take responsibility for nearly losing, but it also detracts from what VCU did. VCU went from 31% shooting in the first half to 50% shooting in the second. Pitt never stopped shooting well in both halves. VCU, when they began hitting those shots — and they weren’t exactly doing lay-ups in that run — then had time to set up their press. Go figure, when they started getting time to get into position, their defensive intensity was able to pick-up.

Of course after the game, Coach Dixon spoke as if it was never a question.

The Panthers will live to see the second weekend of this NCAA tournament. They advance to San Jose to play in the West Regional, but they’ll spend most of the time between now and then trying to catch their collective breath after this superb 84-79 overtime classic, and they’ll wonder how in the world they ever needed five extra minutes to get that done.

“I don’t think there was any doubt in our minds that we’d win the game, even after they made their run,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was a group effort picking us back up. Guys really believed in what we were doing.”

The players, naturally reflected that same, “oh, yeah, we knew we’d win,” claim afterwards.

“That’s what this tournament is about,” senior guard Antonio Graves said. “They weren’t going to give up. We never let our guard down. And that showed in overtime. We showed the true character of our team.”
Joe Starkey agrees that the team showed something special in the OT.

Cook came off the bench cold and hit two big foul shots with 19.1 seconds left in overtime to stretch the lead to 82-79. Sam Young (team-high 15 points, six rebounds, two blocks) made two more with 6.6 seconds left to account for the final score – and make it impossible for the scrappy Rams to tie it with a 3.

Pitt led, 58-42, with 8:50 left in regulation, but withered under the Rams’ full-court press and actually trailed, 69-67, with 55 seconds left before Fields whipped a pass to Young for a layup. After B.A. Walker missed a 3-pointer, Fields came back and drew a foul and went to the line.

“The true test of a team, the true character, shows when you (hit) adversity like we did,” said center Aaron Gray, who had 14 points, eight rebounds and a team-high five assists.

After the game, we learned that Gray had been battling food poisoning, didn’t practice on Friday and barely slept. Still he was highly efficient in his time on the Court. Mike Cook suffered a bruised knee near the end of the first half, and was noticeably hobbled in limited action in the second half. And arguably the VCU run may not have happened if Graves hadn’t had to be pulled with his 4th foul.

Maynor shot 2 of 6 for six points in the first half, as the Panthers bolted to a 41-26 lead. Most of Maynor’s points came after Graves picked up his fourth foul with 10 minutes to play in regulation.

Antonio Graves has almost jumped another level in his defensive effort in the post-season. It’s been great to see.

Any idea where pitt alumni can get tickets to the game in San Jose? I live in the Bay Area but tickets on Ebay are going for a couple hundred each. Does Pitt have an allotment they can sell to alumni?

Comment by Joe 03.18.07 @ 2:14 pm

I like this joker from UCLA that commented in the other topic.

And then he uses the word “class”, or lack thereof, when a Pitt fan says that he hopes we beat UCLA by 30.

Class is so overused by sports fans. Sorry that I apparently lack “class” because I want my team to beat the snot out of your team. It’s sports fandom? Who gives a shit about “class”?

Comment by Jimbo Covert's my dad 03.18.07 @ 4:57 pm

Yeah, that stuff is hilarious. Please keep in mind he also “dedicated” the game. I mean, it’s retarded enough we waste our time watching people play basketball and talking about it, let’s not make it worse by taking it seriously.

Comment by J-Maile 03.18.07 @ 5:14 pm

Take it seriously? If anyone read the 171 comments from yesteday’s thread (including mine)
they would think we are all nut’s!

Looking back, I am very proud of our team for not folding, think we are the better team Thursday,
and whatever happens is a bonus for all of us.

Having said on this earth could we blow a 19 point lead??

Always think of the “gunners” famous saying’
We had em all the way!” after games like yesterdays.

Comment by Dan 72 03.18.07 @ 5:21 pm

we regulars defintely put too much time into pitt and this site! But the truth is, I’m not going on their site and dedicating anything-I hope we beat them down and I hope our guys play with that mind-set as well.

Comment by scoocher 03.18.07 @ 6:43 pm

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