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Pittsburgh 34, Villanova 32 Halftime

03.28.09 at 8:06 pm ET
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After trailing for most of the first half, two free throws by Sam Young with 2.6 seconds remaining gave Pittsburgh a two-point lead at halftime in the East Regional final.

The play that led to the two free throws was symbolic of the topsy-turvy play between the two Big East powers.

Sam Young pump-faked Nova’s Dwayne Anderson into the air and then slipped underneath him, causing Anderson to do a spectacular, if not dangerous flip onto the hardwood. Anderson got up none the worse for wear.

Pittsburgh ended the first half on a 26-14 run to take the lead at the break.

Villanova is shooting 34 percent (11-for-32) while Pittsburgh has warmed up to 42 percent at 10-for-24.

Both teams have players with foul issues. Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair picked up an ill-advised second foul when he came out to screen Scottie Reynolds with under two minutes remaining. Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark both have two fouls for Villanova.

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Nova out early, Pitt bounces back

03.28.09 at 7:51 pm ET
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As was the case with Xavier, Pittsburgh fell behind early, trailing 18-8. Villanova found its range from three-point territory as Shane Clark hit a pair of consecutive shots from beyond the arc.

But Pittsburgh went on a 12-4 run, capped off by a steal by big man DeJuan Blair near mid-court and a ramble to the basket. He made the layup and then a free throw, to close the Nova lead to, 22-20.

The key moment of the game so far occured when Nova’s Dante Cunningham picked up his second foul with seven minutes remaining in the first half, leaving them without someone to guard Blair.

Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds is playing with a dark wrap on his right wrist and he was shaking it as he drove to the basket for a layup late in the first half and landed on it.

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Early thoughts

03.28.09 at 7:23 pm ET
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Villanova jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead with 15:18 left in the first. And when Scottie Reynolds hit a floater in the lane, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon was forced to call a timeout, even though the official timeout benchmark of 16:00 had passed.

The crowd again is again heavily dominated by Villanova supporters. We told you about Ray Ventrone in the crowd.  Rollie Massimino, mastermind of the 66-64 upset of Georgetown in 1985 is sitting in the first row of seats behind press/radio row.

Both teams are showing the early jitters. Villanova made just three of thier first 10 shots. Pittsburgh converted just two of their first seven. DeJuan Blair picked up an early foul when he tackled Reggie Redding after a steal, and like in the Xavier game, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon took him out until the next whistle.

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V for Villanova, V for Ventrone

03.28.09 at 6:38 pm ET
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BOSTON – Tonight’s East Regional showdown between Villanova and Pittsburgh figures to be a battle that will sometimes more resemble a football game than a tussle on the hardwood.

And there’s someone in attendance who can more than relate with the gridiron aspect. Patriots cornerback and special teams heavy hitter Ray Ventrone is sitting among the Villanova faithful. And for good reason. He graduated from the Philadelphia Main Line institution in 2005 and was signed as an undrafted free agent.

The irony in his presence at TD Banknorth Garden tonight is that he was born and raised in Pittsburgh before heading off to Philly to play college football.

Ventrone said he is also looking forward to opening day at Fenway Park on April 6 and indicated he is looking forward to taking in several Red Sox games this season.

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East Regional final thoughts-Villanova

03.28.09 at 5:22 pm ET
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BOSTON – Villanova set a new school record for single season victories when it captured its 29th win on Thursday over Duke. The previous record of 28 was set in 2005-06 when current seniors Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, Dante Cunningham and Frank Tchuisi.

The win over Duke marked the first time in school history that Villanova won consecutive NCAA tournament games by at least 20 points. Villanova beat UCLA, 89-69, in round 2 and beat Duke, 77-54, on Thursday.

Villanova is now 10-4 in NCAA tournament play under coach Jay Wright over the last five seasons. Three of the four losses have come at the hands of the eventual national champion. 2005-North Carolina. 2006-Florida and 2008-Kansas.

The senior class has earned the most wins of any class in school history. They are 101-36 entering tonight’s game.

Villanova is playing a fellow Big East school in NCAA tournament play for the first time since beating Georgetown, 66-64 for the national title in 1985.

Villanova beat Pittsburgh, 67-57, in the only meeting between the two teams this season. It was the last college game ever at Philadelphia’s Spectrum.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,

East Regional final thoughts-Pittsburgh

03.28.09 at 5:15 pm ET
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BOSTON – As No. 1 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Villanova plan to square off beginning at 7:05 p.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden, here are some final thoughts to keep in mind. First, Pittsburgh.

Pitt is advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974, when they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State, starring David Thompson.

Only two schools have advanced to more Sweet Sixteens than Pittsburgh in the last eight years. (Duke and Kansas, 6).

The last time Pittsburgh advanced to the Final Four was in 1941. Pitt beat North Carolina, 26-22, before losing to Wisconsin, 36-30, in the Final Four at Madison, Wisc.

The win over Xavier gave Pittsburgh 31, tying a school record set back in 2003-04. That was the first year under current coach Jamie Dixon.

Probable lineups for Pitt tonight: Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young at F, DeJuan Blair C and Jermaine Dixon and Levance Fields G.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,

What’s the opposite of Ubuntu?

03.27.09 at 10:40 pm ET
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There have been a few thoughts floating around the Celtics that both Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore have been reluctant to assert themselves offensively so as to not offend the standing rule of law. To wit: Thou shalt not be bigger than the team.

That’s fine as far as it goes but it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the Celtics Code, which is not actually do no harm, but rather, do what you do when you’re supposed to do it and do it well. If you’re Paul Pierce, for example, that may mean taking over in the fourth quarter when it’s needed, or dialing it back when it’s not.

So, if you’re Mikki Moore it means taking that 17-foot jump shot when the opportunity arises, and if you’re Stephon Marbury, it means putting your head down from time to time and going aggressively to the basket. That Moore and Marbury haven’t, until Friday night against the Hawks that is, has become something of a problem. (Click here for a recap of the Celtics win over Atlanta).

It’s a fine line that needs to be walked and one that the Celtics starting five has mastered to the point where Pierce noted last week that when they are all together, ” we are like one.” The whole thing speaks to the larger culture that the Celtics have created in a very short amount of time and Moore and Marbury’s hesitancy proves that it is not a media myth, but rather something that is well-known and established throughout the league.

Which brings us to the Atlanta Hawks. Former Celtic Joe Johnson is the team’s resident All-Star. Mike Bibby is the veteran head. But it’s Josh Smith who is the team’s zeitgeist and it’s fair to say that he and coach Mike Woodson do not always agree on things.

To quote from the Atlanta-Journal piece linked above:

‘€œI want to set the record straight about this one last time,’€ Woodson said, tugging at the neck of his shirt and leaning forward in his chair. ‘€œThis is not now, and has never been, about me hating Josh or Josh hating me. It’€™s not a personal thing. We get along just fine.’€

Except for all those times they don’€™t.

Right, and when the coach has to say publicly that he and the team’s star player don’t hate each other, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of peace, love and understanding. Smith, who is a phenomenally talented player, is under the delusion that he is occasionally a 3-point shooter, and when he does hoist 3′s at his career 26.2 percent career clip his team tends to not play well. But when he plays like the athletic freakshow that he is, Smith is capable of doing things like erasing a 20-point deficit in oh, three or four minutes or so.

There’s no question that the Hawks bother the Celtics. Whether it was their temerity to take the eventual champs to seven games last spring or their marketing staff’s over-the-top theatrics for their first regular season re-match, the Celtics view the Hawks as somewhat less than worthy adversaries. Witness Rajon Rondo’s, “It’s not a rivalry” quote.

Perhaps it’s the Hawks very essence that offends the Celtics so much. A team that talks when it hasn’t won anything. A team that shoots 3′s when it should be pounding the ball inside. A team with players who seem to do what they want, when they want. It’s a bit of a shame that the Hawks and Celtics are probably relegated to the opposite ends of the Eastern Conference bracket because they seem to bring out the worst of each other in a way that’s highly entertaining.

Six more observations:

1. The injury to Kevin Garnett has officially become worrisome. At this point there is no guarantee that he is ever going to be 100 percent the rest of the season, and if he’s not, it’s hard to make the case that the Celtics can repeat as NBA champs. Mike Gorman made an interesting point on the telecast. The Celtics are locked into either the 2 or the 3 slot in the Eastern Conference and it won’t matter if they finish one game behind Orlando or four games behind.

The Celtics clearly are not scared of the playing Orlando without homecourt and if so, then it’s not worth extending Garnett for the next few weeks.

2. It was not lost on anyone over here at Green Street HQ that Eddie House, and not Stephon Marbury, was summoned from the bench early in the first quarter when Rajon Rondo got two quick fouls. Marbury was left on the bench for the duration of the second half against Orlando Wednesday and his play had sunk to such a level that Garnett felt compelled to sing his praises to the press yesterday.

But when Marbury did get in the game he finally looked like the guy people have been hoping he would be. How does 11 points, two assists and zero turnovers in 17 minutes strike you from your backup point guard?

3. Speaking of E-House, I haven’t seen the latest returns in the Sullivan Tire Sixth Man award, but if he isn’t the winner then the fans voted for the wrong guy. House has been the one constant off the bench all season and he continued his hot shooting with a dozen points Friday. Once again he was the offense for a good chunk of the second quarter until Marbury got untracked.

4. Last week, Doc Rivers had some strong words for Glen Davis after he went 1-for-11 against the Clippers. “When he comes in the game thinking about being a scorer, then he struggles,” Rivers said. “He’s a terrific player when he stays within his limitations, and that actually allows him, especially numbers-wise, to play out of people’s expectations.”

Baby had 19 points and 12 rebounds against the Hawks and he was the best big man on the floor until Smith went crazy in the fourth quarter. He continues to do some things that are frankly amazing, like his huge block on Joe Johnson, but his offensive game was quietly efficient and that’s what Rivers wants.

5. While not as brilliant as Marbury, Mikki Moore also had something of a breakout game. After picking up three fouls in about a minute and a half in the third quarter, Moore finally seemed to get it. He finished with 10 rebounds and had some huge defensive stops against Smith late in the game.

6. Hadn’t noticed it until Comcast put the numbers up, but Paul Pierce has really struggled at the free throw line in the month of March shooting just 72 percent. That’s a fine number, if you play for Syracuse, but for a guy who is at 83 percent on the year, that’s a slump.

Pierce has been slowly coming back around. He had a couple of shots rim in and out against the Hawks that would have made his final numbers look better, but 21 points and 37 minutes seem just about right for him for this time of year. Also, Pierce finished the game going 8-for-10 from the line.

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