BOSTON -- To hear Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland tell it, he wins because of great players and a great staff. He probably has some great dogs, cats and parakeets at home that also deserve credit for Pitt's record (28-4), but they weren't here yesterday to witness the 74-52 domination of Indiana.
On the 94 feet of hardwood that Pitt pounds, the meek inherit nothing but elimination from the 2003 NCAA tournament.
As Indiana goes home heartbroken, Pitt goes on to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, this time to the Midwest Regional in Minneapolis. Last year, Kent State upset the Panthers in overtime. This time, Marquette is the opponent. But on a Pitt team that returns nine of 10 players from last season, memories are long and redemption is on the agenda.
"Ben Howland is a great basketball coach," Indiana coach Mike Davis said. "When you can get your players to play exactly the way the game is supposed to be played, that means you're a great basketball coach. We played Kentucky this year, we played Illinois, we played some really good basketball teams. But we hadn't played a team like that all year. They were under control the whole game, never wasting any motion.
"They execute everything and they're unselfish. It doesn't matter who scores and they make passes to the open player. Defensively, they always help each other and they're going to make every play tough on you. ... They are a coach's dream."
The Hoosiers, who lost to Maryland in the NCAA championship game a year ago, stayed with the Panthers for the first 14 minutes. Ahead 22-21, the Panthers stayed relentless while the Hoosiers (21-13) wilted as Pitt outscored them 9-0 for a 31-21 halftime lead.
It was an almost identical lapse to the one Indiana had in the first half Friday against Alabama, when the Hoosiers trailed by 11 at the half.
But because defense and rebounding are its staples, Pitt is almost impossible to come back against, and yesterday was no exception. With Indiana's leader and best outside shooter, guard Tom Coverdale, stifled by Pitt's quickest defender, Julius Page, it was left to forward Jeff Newton and super freshman Bracey Wright to sponsor a 7-0 run that cut Pitt's lead to 36-32 with 15:17 left. But Page (13 points) swished a three with 6:35 left to make it 55-43 and the Hoosiers never got close again.
"He's probably the best defender I've ever faced," said Coverdale, who had six points (2-for-7 from the field). "He's so quick and he's a great anticipator. He sees what's going to happen before it happens."
Said Howland: "Coverdale is the heart and soul of that team. We got Julius to lock down on him, the same way he did against [Boston College's] Troy Bell and [UConn's] Ben Gordon. I think this team wears on you because they keep playing hard. They never stop playing hard."
Howland pointed out that while Pitt only had one day to prepare for Indiana, a team that claims to run as many as 80 offensive sets, it doesn't matter as much if you haven't practiced against a lot of what your opponent does when you defend and rebound the way Pitt does.
"Most of the plays [Indiana] ran today weren't on our scouting report," said Pitt point guard Brandin Knight (17 points, seven assists). "But we just stuck to all our rules, like Coach teaches."
It was the usual Pitt formula: Four players (led by Jaron Brown's 20 points on 8-for-9 field-goal shooting) in double figures, fewer turnovers (10-16), more rebounds (36-21), no low-percentage shots and a defense that extended like a ladder to keep Coverdale from getting open looks, no matter how many double-screens Indiana set.
"It comes down to defense and rebounding," Howland said. "We don't quit playing defense. Defense wins. Pittsburgh Steelers basketball."
Alan Greenberg is a reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
INDIANA--Wright 4-11 2-3 11, Newton 4-9 5-5 14, Leach 7-11 1-2 15, Coverdale 2-7 0-0 6, Strickland 1-3 0-0 3, Moye 0-0 0-0 0, Hornsby 1-2 0-0 3, Perry 0-1 0-0 0, Roberts 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-44 8-10 52. PITTSBURGH--Brown 8-9 3-4 20, Zavackas 1-5 0-0 2, Lett 3-7 3-7 9, Page 5-9 2-2 13, Knight 4-6 7-10 17, Troutman 3-7 4-4 10, Krauser 1-3 1-1 3, Demetris 0-0 0-0 0, McCarroll 0-1 0-0 0, Morris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 20-28 74. Half--Pittsburgh, 31-21. 3-point goals--Indiana 6-17 (Coverdale 2-5, Hornsby 1-2, Newton 1-2, Strickland 1-3, Wright 1-4, Perry 0-1), Pittsburgh 4-9 (Knight 2-4, Brown 1-1, Page 1-2, Zavackas 0-2). Fouled out--none. Rebounds--Indiana 21 (Wright 8), Pittsburgh 36 (Troutman 9). Assists--Indiana 13 (Coverdale 6), Pittsburgh 16 (Knight 7). Total fouls--Indiana 18, Pittsburgh 14. A -- 18,389.