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Get creative 03.27.09 at 4:37 pm ET
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Props to Mike Vega, our distinguished colleague at the Boston Globe for the following question on the off-day before Saturday’s East Regional final between Villanova and Pittsburgh.

With Villanova coach Jay Wright on the dais, joined by five players, Vega asked the following:

This is for each one of you guys, and I’d like you to take the time to maybe think and just give me your quick response to who on the Pitt team, who on Pitt’s team best defines the term straight baller? Who on that team best defines that, each one of you?

DWAYNE ANDERSON: I’m not sure if you can choose one player, that’s why they’re in the position they are.

Q. Choose one. (Vega countered)

DWAYNE ANDERSON: Levance Fields.

SHANE CLARK: I’m going to have to go with Sam Young.

DANTE CUNNINGHAM: (DeJuan) Blair.

REGGIE REDDING: (Jermaine) Dixon.

SCOTTIE REYNOLDS: Whoever is left. It’s (Tyrelle) Biggs, yeah. (Laughter.)

Q. Among the starting lineup, who is the guy that stands above the rest?

DWAYNE ANDERSON: I think probably Levance Fields, as you saw last night. At the end of the game he wants the ball in his hands. And he didn’t score that much in the beginning of the game, but he made other plays on the defensive end. That just shows how great of a player he is. He took that shot when they were only down two. Levance Fields, he’s their motivation, he keeps them going.

Vega also posed the same to Pittsburgh players and here were their answers:

TYRELL BIGGS: Corey Fisher.

JERMAINE DIXON: I would definitely have to say Corey Fisher, too.

DeJUAN BLAIR: I’d say Scottie (Reynolds). He’s the general for their team.

LEVANCE FIELDS: Fisher.

SAM YOUNG: I’ll say Dante (Cunningham), because he plays tough and he’s aggressive. He always does whatever it takes to win.

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Pitt wrap up at 12:52 pm ET
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The Pittsburgh Panthers have been a fascinating case study in flirting with tournament disaster in all three games they’ve won so far.

In round one, they were trailing East Tennessee State in the second half and in danger of becoming the first No. 1 to lose to a No. 16 in tourney history. They woke up in time and squeaked out a 72-67 win.

In round two, they were tied with Oklahoma State, 49-49, at halftime and won by eight.

And on Thursday night, they were being manhandled by No. 4 Xavier at halftime 37-29. They were trailing with under a minute to go, 55-53, when Levance Fields fired up a long distance dedication that was answered by string music when his three swished through as the shot clock was winding down. Fields stole the ball moments later and Pittsburgh was onto the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974.

On Saturday evening, Pittsburgh is playing Villanova in the East Regional final for a chance to go to the Final Four for the first time ever.

Here is what the winners had to say following their win over the Muskies on Thursday night:
Pittsburgh – 60
Xavier – 55

COACH DIXON: Obviously can’t say enough about our kids. But first off Xavier’s kids, great team. We knew what they were and they came out and played with tremendous physicality and toughness and aggressiveness. Probably the most physical team we’ve seen this year.
They pushed us around for the first half, but we responded in the second half as we usually do. And we’re very proud of our guys how they responded. It’s the first half we didn’t — didn’t go our way. We had guys make big plays.
As I said earlier, I never get tired of watching Levance take big shots. He’s made them year after year. Our guys believe in him. I believe in him. And that’s all that matters.
I’m proud of these guys and what they did rebounding-wise against a very good team, especially in the second half. We came, we responded and we did what we wanted to do after halftime. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nova wrap up at 12:34 pm ET
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Before looking ahead to a Big East coronation in the East Regional final between No. 1 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Villanova, let’s take one more look back on Thursday night.

Some quick notes about Villanova-Duke:

Villanova is back to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2006 and for the fourth time since 1985, also the last year they won it all. Nova beat North Carolina in their title run in ’85, lost to Oklahoma in ’88 and lost to eventual national champ Florida three years ago.

Villanova is playing a fellow Big East school in the NCAA tournament for the first since beating Georgetown, 66-64, in the ’85 title game.

Duke’s tandem of Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson made just 4-of-32 shots from the floor.

Duke made just 16-of-60 shots on the night, a 26.7 percentage.

Villanova – 77
Duke – 54

Here were the comments from Villanova coach Jay Wright and selected players postgame:

COACH WRIGHT: Well, a great game for us. We are — we’re getting better this late in the year, which is really exciting. It’s fun to coach this group. We have so much respect for Duke, the program, those players. We know all those guys. We really respect how they compete and they’re a great program. It was a great win against them.
What’s really exciting for our staff is that these guys just keep improving. We actually had two or three practices before this where we can see guys improving and our team improving, and that’s exciting.

Q. This is for any one of the guys. This is a neutral site game, but it seemed like your fans came up in force. Did it feel like a home game at times for you guys?
DANTE CUNNINGHAM: You know, we like to call it Nova Nation, it’s everywhere. It was great to hear everyone behind us yelling and screaming.
REGGIE REDDING: I think it was a real advantage for us and they came out to Boston and just showed us what kind of university Villanova is.
SCOTTIE REYNOLDS: Yeah, they did a great job, even though we were down, staying in the game, and we appreciate their support.

Q. For any of the players, first half, 26 points, kind of a half-court game. The second half you opened it up a little bit. What changed for you guys?
DANTE CUNNINGHAM: We honestly just kept the same intensity, brought it up a little bit more in the second half. Honestly, just the same thing we came into the game with. We just tightened it up a little bit more and just continued to get stops on the defensive end.
REGGIE REDDING: I think in the second half we got the ball moving a little bit more. Every guy on the floor was trying to make plays. And the first half it was just like we were passing, passing, not doing anything, really. In the second half we tried to make plays. Read the rest of this entry »

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Closing in at 12:12 am ET
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Villanova is closing in on its second Elite Eight appearance in fourth years. They lost to eventual national champion Florida in 2006. Villanova would play fellow Big East rival Pittsburgh on Saturday for a chance to go to Detroit and the Final Four.

Villanova hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1985 when they won it all. Pittsburgh has never made the trip.

By the way, Gerald Henderson drilled his first field goal, a three with 5:20 remaining to bring Duke to within 64-49 but Villanova maintained control and answered when Dante Cunningham hit a layup.

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Ice cold 03.26.09 at 11:38 pm ET
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It’s no secret that Duke is a significantly better team when they hit their threes.

Duke started out 2-for-13 from beyond the arc before Greg Paulus came off the bench to drill his first three point attempt. It was Paulus’ first action of the game and the three came with over 15 minutes remaining in the second half.

On the Gerald Henderson watch, he is now 0-for-7 from the floor, with just two first half free throws to show for his efforts. He picked up his fourth personal fould with 13:53 remaining in the second half and went immediately to the bench.

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Catching up… Villanova 26, Duke 23 Halftime at 11:18 pm ET
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Having returned from the press conference following Pittsburgh’s win over Xavier, some notes to pass along about Villanova and Duke.

First, Villanova made just 10 of 29 shots and lead, 26-23 at the break.

Duke shot 7-for-25 in the first half for 28 percent.

Mike Krzyzewski surpassed Dean Smith by coaching in his 94th career NCAA game.

Villanova is outrebounding Duke, 22-17.

Gerald Henderson was 0-for-5 in the first half and missed his first shot of the second half.

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Pittsburgh 60, Xavier 55 at 9:46 pm ET
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Levance Fields stole the show in the final minute for the No. 1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers as he drained a desperation three from straightaway as the shot clock expired and then followed that up with a steal and a length-of-the-court drive and layup as the Panthers prevailed over No. 4 Xavier, 60-55.

Pittsburgh outscored Xavier 33-18 in the second half.

The Panthers advance to face the winner of the Villanova-Duke game in the nightcap. The East Regional championship will be played on Saturday at TD Banknorth Garden.

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