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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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
East Regional final thoughts-Villanova 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 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,
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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Never let them see you sweat at 4:54 pm ET
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So, you thought all stories about gross, sweaty basketball arenas were reserved for a certain former basketball venue on Causeway Street in the mid-80s when the Los Angeles Lakers came to town for the NBA Finals? Think again.

The old Philadelphia Spectrum, now the Wachovia Spectrum, will be raised this spring but before that they had some significant ‘lasts’ in that old facility on Pattison and Broad in South Philly.

One of which occurred on Jan. 28 when Pittsburgh visited Villanova for the last college game ever to be played in the legendary building. The Spectrum, which also hosted the 1976 and 1981 NCAA Final Four won by Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, was transformed into a sweatbox that night as the heat was cranked up, making the building feel like a sauna, circa the 1984-85 NBA Finals in Boston.

Villanova coach Jay Wright prides himself on his well-dressed manner on the sideline. On this night, that was a challenge as big as containing Pitt’s DeJuan Blair.

“I know they didn’t know anything about the Spectrum,” Wright said on Friday of his players’ appreciation of the Spectrum. “But in that second half when that place got going and it was so hot in there. I pride myself I don’t sweat too much. I was just sweating like crazy. And my friends were busting my chops bout going to my hanky all the time. I don’t ever remember being in a game like that. It was so hot and so loud.”

But as was the case in the 80s with Bird, Parish and McHale and Ainge and D.J., the home team had a little something to do with Villanova knocking off then-No. 3 Pittsburgh, 67-57.

“The second thing was, Shane Clark in the second half coming up with all those big offensive rebounds. Reggie Redding, big shots,” Wright added. “Corey Fisher, big shots. They really hadn’t done that before in Big East games. And that’s what kind of got us going is they knew Pitt were they No. 1 or No. 2, 3? But they knew they were a great team. And now they do it against a great team and they got confidence and we got confidence in them. That’s what I think really happened.

“I swear, that building had a lot to do with it. I really do think it does. Just the crowd, I mean,” Wright said.

Now, on Saturday night, he’s hoping the Nova fans in the Garden turn up the heat again on the Panthers.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Spectrum, Villanova
Get creative 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.

Read More: March Madness, Pittsburgh, Villanova,
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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