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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.

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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.

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Trags Take… Villanova-Pittsburgh 03.27.09 at 5:24 pm ET
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East Regional Final No. 3 Villanova (29-7) vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh (31-4), Saturday, 7:05 p.m. TD Banknorth Garden

The Big East has been praised up and down as the best college basketball conference in the land. On Saturday night in Boston, that will be in full display as two of the best teams from the conference square off for the chance to go to the Final Four the following weekend in the Motor City.

Here are five things from each team to look for that will go a long way in determining who will be cutting the Garden nets and getting their motors revved for Detroit.

Pittsburgh:

1. Can Pittsburgh survive another inconsistent performance out of the gate? Most likely the answer to this question is no.

2. Can Pittsburgh avoid the foul trouble that plagued DeJuan Blair in the only other meeting between the two Pennsylvania cross-state rivals on Jan. 28 at the Spectrum?

3. Will Levance Fields start making an impact earlier than the last 60 seconds of the game?

4. Can Sam Young score on Villanova’s defense?

5. Will Pittsburgh find a way to control the offensive glass with their bigger front court?

Villanova:

1. Will Dante Cunningham continue to emerge as the most active player on Villanova’s roster?

2. Will Villanova be able to do what Xavier did on Thursday night and dribble penetrate in the lane and dish off to wide open scorers?

3. Will Scottie Reynolds finally be the Scottie Reynolds who can score at will?

4. Can Villanova find their long-range touch?

5. Will Villanova dominate the second half as they have in their first three tournament wins?

What they said:

Villanova coach Jay Wright: “We’ve got three seniors and Scottie (Reynolds) who’s played so many games, he’s like a senior, have been very, very successful with this year is just put the last game behind them, whether it was a good game or bad game, move on to the next game and keeping their focus on that.  So I think that’s going to be important. The higher the stakes get the more there’s distractions around you. And we’re really counting on these upperclassmen to make sure we concentrate on Pitt, who is I know I sound like a broken record, but when you get to this point in the season you’re playing great teams. We know them. These seniors have played against their seniors so many times.

“It’s going to be a great game. We know each other very well and we’ve had a lot of great battles. We have great respect for them, as I said last night. We’d love to win this game, but at least I hope we do win, but at least if we don’t, there’s a Big East team going to the Final Four. We’ll be proud of them and happy for them, but I hope it’s us.”

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon: “As soon as the game was over it was about who we’re going to be playing and getting our guys back to the hotel and getting them rested and preparation for the next one. I think it’s an interesting thing. I know there’s about 330 programs that would like to ask that question and call the Sweet 16 like a bad thing. It’s been an accomplishment. It’s something that we as a program I never considered as a possibility, and we were getting there on more often than everybody but two schools in the country. So I think Kansas and Duke are one up on us.  So we’ve had a very good run, very good success. But at the same time we know that a National Championship is something that we have as a goal.”

Trags Take: Villanova coach Jay Wright says that the Final Four isn’t a specific goal for his team. Jamie Dixon of Pitt says it is. Wright says he just wants his team playing their best basketball. And they are. They are outscoring their opponents by a total of 50 points in the second halves of their three NCAA games so far. Games are won in the the second half, just ask Pittsburgh who had to get a prayer answered when Levance Fields drained a long, long three-pointer in the final minute to carry the Panthers to victory. Villanova has the guard play and depth that Xavier didn’t. Villanova will be revving their motors following this one and off to the Final Four for the first time since their magical 1985 title season.

Villanova 75, Pittsburgh 63

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