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Trags Take… X-Men and Panthers 03.24.09 at 9:37 am ET
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East Regional Semifinal- No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh, 7:27 p.m. Thursday, Ch. 4.

On Thursday night, the first of three East Regional games will be played at TD Banknorth Garden and the matchup between Xavier and Pittsburgh figures to be compelling on many different levels.

Here’s how.

The first game has the top seed Pittsburgh Panthers (30-4) taking on No. 4 Xavier (27-7). The Musketeers are coached by Sean Miller, the same Sean Miller who played for Pittsburgh in the mid-to-late 80s and fed Jerome “Send It In” Lane on the most devastating college dunk of all time.

Miller said on Monday that facing his old school isn’t a big deal.

‘€œPitt holds a special place for me just from the standpoint that I had a great experience there as a student-athlete. I was treated like you wanted to be treated,’€ Miller said. ‘€œThe friendships that I have today with so many of close friends stem from my experiences there. And it really stops there as well.”

Naturally.

He is also the same Sean Miller who appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when he was five and showed off his dribbling skills before a nationwide audience.

Now Miller is all grown up and so are his Muskies. They were down seven and playing right into Wisconsin’s hands on Sunday when the team went on a 10-0 run and the Badgers were not heard from again. Xavier advanced with a 60-49 win in Boise.

As for Pittsburgh, they nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 before waking up against East Tennessee State. They were tied with Oklahoma State, 49-49, at halftime, before pulling away for the win in Dayton. An interesting note, Xavier A.D. Mike Bobinski didn’t travel with his team to the land of big potatoes. Instead he stayed behind in nearby Dayton to watch the Panthers and another No. 1 seed, the Louisville Cardinals.

The Road to Boston:

Xavier: Beat No. 13 Portland State, 77-59. Beat No. 12 Wisconsin, 60-49.

Pittsburgh: Beat No. 16 East Tennessee State, 72-67. Beat No. 8 Oklahoma State, 84-76.

Players to watch:

Xavier: B.J. Raymond and C.J. Anderson. Raymond led all Muskies with 15 points on Sunday and is the stabilizing force in a backcourt that is vulnerable to pressure. Anderson is arguably Xavier’s most versatile player, at 6-6, 220 pounds, big enough to play in the front court but quick enough to handle the ball on the perimeter. If he’s shooting well, look out. He was scoreless in Xavier’s loss to Temple in the A-10 semifinals.

Pittsburgh: DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. Blair had 10 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday. He had 27 points and 16 rebounds against ETSU in the first round. He is 6-7 and listed at 245. He been playing even bigger. Young is a pure scorer and showed that with 32 against the Cowboys on Sunday. He leads the Panthers with 18.9 points per game. And Fields is the floor general, dishing out 7.6 assists a game while scoring at a 10.6 PPG clip.

Trags Take: Not going the Steelers Karma route here. Told you here at the beginning of the tournament that Xavier was one of the five teams I liked in this field. Not going to change now. Pittsburgh’s luck runs out against one of the most athletic and versatile teams remaining in the tournament. Xavier finds a way to defend Young and contain Fields.

Xavier 70, Pittsburgh 64

Read More: Boston, East Regional, NCAA, Pittsburgh
Sounds of the game… Celtics 90, Clippers 77 03.23.09 at 11:29 pm ET
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It’s the most basic lesson Celtics head coach Doc Rivers preaches, with some serious nudging from assistant Tom Thibodeau.

Think defense first and everything else will follow.

Rivers didn’t think his team was in that mindset in the first half on Monday night against the lowly Clippers, especially when the Clip Joint went on a 19-5 run early in the second quarter to wipe out a 13-point lead and take a lead against the sluggish Celts.

‘€œWe didn’€™t get any stops and we didn’€™t score the basketball,” Eddie House said. “They went on a 19-5 run I think from the start of the 2nd to 4 minutes left so that’€™s a recipe for disaster if you don’€™t get stops and don’€™t score. Second half we concentrated on getting stops and our offense slowed up our defense.’€

Thanks to Kevin Garnett, the Celtics picked up their defensive intensity. And as our colleague Paul Flannery writes, the offense did, indeed, follow.

But with Orlando lurking in the land of Magic on Wednesday and second-place in the East on the line, Rivers knows his team, especially the second unit, can’t afford to come into a game like they did Monday night.

“Honestly, I thought in the first half they came out thinking all about offense and it was a one pass, shot unit,” Rivers said. “In the second half they thought about defense and they got stops.  And then we moved the ball and got open shots.  And it’€™s amazing when you play the right way together how things work out.  And then when you have the right mindset when you walk on the floor.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Camby, Celtics, Garnett, NBA
What they said… BC coach Al Skinner 03.20.09 at 11:34 pm ET
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Al Skinner said he was concerned early in the week that he didn’t know which BC team would be showing up on Friday night. He got his answer on the Metrodome floor and as it turned out, Skinner had reason to be worried. His team didn’t have enough answers in the second half for Taj Gibson and the Eagles went ice cold from the floor, scoring just 21 second half points while allowing 42.

A 34-30 halftime lead turned into a 72-55 loss and it will be USC advancing to play in the second round on Sunday in Minneapolis. Here’s how Skinner evaluated things afterward, beginning with an opening statement.

COACH SKINNER: Basically, obviously the game was decided in the second half, and we did not execute as well as we needed to. We were impatient at times and in comparison to the first half when we took our time, executed. I thought the second half we got a little anxious.
And because of that, didn’t get the shot selections or get ourselves into rebounding position to keep ourselves in the game. And basically that’s the difference in the second half.

And because we missed as many shots as we did, it allowed them to get into transition and score and obviously shoot a very high percentage.

Q. Coach, could you just talk about the guy, Taj Gibson. Kind of a beast.

COACH SKINNER:
Yeah, we didn’t do a particularly good job on him.
Not as well I was hoping we would do. I mean, he obviously had a tremendous night. We did not defend him as well as I thought we would have, so that was a little bit disappointing.

But obviously his quickness was a factor, and we just didn’t adjust to it well. Because he was pretty persistent. I thought as times we did a good job, but he just kept coming. And we did not work as hard as he did.

Q. How did you want to defend him coming in? Did you feel that the matchup was kind of not necessarily a mismatch, but did you feel it was a matchup that would be an x factor?

COACH SKINNER: No, I didn’t think that would be a difference in the ball game. As a matter of fact, even though I know he had a great line, that really was not the difference in the ball game.

To me, the difference was we allowed some other people to score. And I thought we could have done a better job with them.

We knew that this was going to be a tough matchup for us, even though, again, I expected to do a little bit better than what we did.

But I thought we could defend those other individuals a little bit better than we did and we did not. And to me that was the difference in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Al Skinner, Boston College, NCAA, USC
What they said… Tyrese Rice and Joe Trapani 03.20.09 at 11:25 pm ET
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That was not the way Tyrese Rice wanted his career to end. The senior point guard and BC team leader made just four of his 11 shots on the night and finished with nine points as the Eagles fell to Southern California, 72-55, in a Midwest Regional first round game in Minneapolis.

Here is what Rice and teammate Joe Trapani had to say following a loss that finished their season at 22-12.

Q. Talk about the difference in philosophies. Tim Floyd was saying that he wanted to not necessarily focus on you, but focus on the parts around you. You know what I mean? How difficult did that make it for you?

TYRESE RICE:
I mean, I think that’s what most teams do on defense. I don’t think anybody just focuses in on me solely, but I just think that they just try to come up with some kind of scheme to stop everyone. I don’t think they just focused it on me.

Q. Tyrese, can you just talk about your last game now. This is you guys got back into the tournament, you did what you wanted to, you accomplished this part. How difficult is this right now?

TYRESE RICE: Of course I wanted to do more, but overall, I mean, pretty good year. I can’t really complain. Probably give or take winning a couple more games than we have, but overall I think it was a pretty good year.

I definitely wanted to make more of a run in the tournament, but, I mean, that’s how it is sometimes. That is how it was for us my sophomore year and my freshman year. We probably could have went farther in both of those years, too. So we can’t really harp on it, but just say it was great.

Q. Tyrese, it felt like in the first half you had your fingerprints more on you were very active scoring wise and the second half things fell off. Describe the differences and what happened.

TYRESE RICE: I just think we executed more in the first half, which opened more things up. We went through more of our offense in the first half and got to the second and third options. And then if something broke down, we then made something happen.

In the second half, when something broke down, we just automatically just thought like get a shot up instead of just keep going through the whole thing and then waiting for something to come about. But in the second half, I think they bunkered down a little bit tighter on defense and made things a little tough. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston College, Joe Trapani, NCAA, Tyrese Rice
What they said… Welcome back Coach Calhoun 03.20.09 at 4:56 pm ET
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One of the early storylines of this NCAA Tournament has revolved around one of the No. 1 seeds. Not the on-the-court performance of the Connecticut Huskies but rather their ferocious coach. Jim Calhoun spent Thursday in a Philadelphia hospital getting treated for dehydration and spent the night there for observation.

He re-joined his team on Friday in Philadelphia after they blew out Chattanooga in the first round, 103-47. On Friday, he addressed the media in Philadelphia.

COACH CALHOUN:
First thing I want to say how proud I was of our kids yesterday, the way they just played, quite frankly, terrific basketball, kept their composure early. It was a 19 17 game, 12 to go.
We had been there before a little bit, especially Jeff and Craig, when we played Albany four years ago. Instead of trying to make it all happen at once, they in turn just piece mailed some things together.
Had a big halftime lead and went onto an impressive win. Couldn’t be happier for them and more proud of my good friend of 40 years George Blaney. So it was a terrific win for us. We’ve had a great deal of success, particularly over the past couple decades in NCAA post season play, but we needed to kind of reestablish ourselves. At least for a game we certainly did that. I was very, very proud of them.

As far as me personally, I fully expected to coach the game yesterday early in the morning, 10, 11 o’clock. I mentioned to Jeff Anderson, our doctor, that I wasn’t feeling particularly well, had felt weak for a couple days, but no problem. He said, Let’s go down and have you checked out. So we went down. I was checked out. Next thing I know, this hour or so turned into being admitted so they could do a full and thorough examination.

They looked at virtually everything, it seems, and came out with the fact that I probably was totally dehydrated. They could find that out.
I left early this morning. I bribed my way out of there as quick as I could. Quite frankly, I feel good now.

I probably feel good because, once again, I got a full physical examination. I will say one thing. The full exam, which got high ratings, did not include a psychiatrist. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Connecticut, Jim Calhoun, NCAA,
What they said… USC coach Tim Floyd 03.20.09 at 12:46 pm ET
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Tim Floyd coached the Chicago Bulls in the NBA after Michael Jordan left in the late 90s. He has had a more successful and certainly more enjoyable time coaching the USC Trojans. This season his team caught fire at the right time, winning its last five games, including a run to a Pac-10 title that earned them a berth against Boston College tonight in Minneapolis.

Here’s how Floyd summed up his opponent on Thursday night.

Q. Hi, Coach. What do you know about B.C. by now? And what concerns you most about them?

COACH FLOYD:
Well, from the coaching standpoint I think he is the best coach that nobody ever talks about. The job he’s done there with seven NCAA tournaments in 12 years. A young team this year that obviously believes in what they’re doing. Great shot selection, great conviction to what they run offensively. Play with a physicality, terrific offensive rebounding team. And great role definition with their players in terms of knowing what they should do and when they should do it.

And they have a star caliber with Rice. You know, a developmental big guy in Southern who is getting better and better. The 2 guard is outstanding, maybe could have been an All ACC player with a little bit more attention paid to him because he has been terrific the last five games. Just very good basketball team. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston College, Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan, NCAA
What they said… USC players 03.20.09 at 12:33 pm ET
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Just so you know what they’re thinking heading into tonight’s showdown with the BC Eagles, here are three of the stars from the USC squad. DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson took to the podium, otherwise referred to as the dais, on Thursday. Here’s how they answered the questions from the media.

Q. Guys, coming in here, you know, what you’ve done these last five games. I mean, do you feel like you’re a pretty dangerous team just coming in on the right note?

TAJ GIBSON: I feel we’re coming in with a lot of confidence. Guys that are healthy this time of year, throughout the years, guys have been really banged up and injuries played a key role in a lot of our games, losing one point at Oklahoma, a lot of tough road games in the Pac 10.

DANIEL HACKETT: We feel good about ourselves. But we learned a hard lesson last year. Losing to Kansas State in the first round, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high. Stay humble and keep playing our basketball.

Q. Hey, Taj, how does last year’s experience and the previous years help you guys, with you, Daniel and Dwight and Keith Wilkinson all being here before?

TAJ GIBSON: It has its ups and its downs. My freshman year we went pretty far, then the mishap last year we lost to a tough Kansas State team.

Just a lot of experience. I hope we can use it to our advantage.
But, once again, we have a lot of young guys coming around at the right part of the season, so the sky’s the limit. But I know Boston College is a really skilled team, a lot of veterans on that team, so just looking forward to getting back out there and playing. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston College, NCAA, Taj Gibson, USC
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