Pitt outmuscles Wisconsin, 59-55

Rebounds, inside strength give Panthers upper hand in back-and-forth game

Ncaa Regional

East Rutherford

March 22, 2004|By Skip Myslenski | Skip Myslenski,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MILWAUKEE - The pitch of the hill they were traveling just kept getting steeper and steeper.

That was the kind of game Pitt and Wisconsin were playing yesterday, a withering affair so taut that it sucked the air out of the Bradley Center and pulled observers to the edge of their seats.

This was an instant classic, and with just over two minutes remaining, it was tied as Panthers guard Carl Krauser (16 points) drove toward the left block. Three Badgers - Devin Harris, Clayton Hanson and Mike Wilkinson - rushed to confront him, but still he got up a 3-foot floater that bounded in and gave his team a lead.

Third-seeded Pitt (31-4) never trailed again, as it ran off to a 59-55 victory and a Thursday date with Oklahoma State in the East Rutherford Regional of the NCAA tournament. But plenty of drama remained in this riveting bit of theater, which mesmerized from the start.

No more than five points separated the teams in the first half, which ended tied at 26, and then after the Panthers jumped to a seven-point lead early in the second, the Badgers (25-7) reeled them in to tie it 35-35 with 14:11 left. From there, no more than four points separated them.

Flexing their inside strength, the Panthers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to the Badgers' seven, grabbed 40 rebounds to the Badgers' 31, scored 14 second-chance points to the Badgers' six, and got 10 of their 11 second-half field goals on dunks, layups or offensive rebounds.

"It was a battle from the opening tip to the final buzzer," Badgers forward Zach Morley said. "There was never a play when they weren't going after the ball."

"People said going in, yeah, they're physical," said Dave Mader, the Badgers' 6-foot-11-inch, 265-pound center. "Those people weren't lying. ... They pushed and shoved us down low and we couldn't counter that."

Nor could Harris find a counter to Pitt's swarming defense, which limited his team to 34.8 percent shooting (17-for-48).

Julius Page opened the game defending Harris, but then that job fell to Jaron Brown.

"I just wanted him to take tough shots," Brown said, "and that's what he was trying to do. Make tough shots."

Harris made enough of them to score a game-high 21 points, but after his three at 11:59 gave the sixth-seeded Badgers a 40-37 lead, he disappeared. He took just two more shots, scored no more points and, after Krauser's drive gave Pitt its lead, he was not there to rescue his team as has so often before.

That left the chore to Boo Wade, who missed an 8-footer at 1:22. But Morley tipped the rebound out to Harris, whose three attempt went in and out. The ball belonged to Pitt, and Krauser heaved a desperation 17-footer just before the shot clock ran out.

It missed, but Brown grabbed the last of Pitt's offensive rebounds and made two free throws after he was fouled. Then came a three by Wade, two foul shots by Krauser, a missed 15-footer by Morley, a foul shot by Brown with three seconds left and the drama was over.

"We didn't finish the game like we wanted to," Harris said.

"That was intensely hard," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "But I don't know a tougher group than my guys."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

WISCONSIN-Wilkinson 2-8 5-5 9, Mader 0-2 1-2 1, Wade 3-8 2-2 9, Owens 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 7-14 2-2 21, Ukawuba 0-1 0-0 0, Nixon 0-0 0-0 0, Hanson 1-4 0-2 3, Morley 4-9 3-4 12. Totals 17-48 13-17 55.

PITTSBURGH-Troutman 3-7 3-3 9, Taft 4-8 0-0 8, Page 5-15 0-0 12, Brown 2-7 4-5 8, Krauser 4-14 8-10 16, Demetris 0-0 0-0 0, McCarroll 3-7 0-1 6, Graves 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-59 15-19 59.

Half: 26-26. 3-point goals-Wisconsin 8-18 (Harris 5-10, Morley 1-2, Wade 1-2, Hanson 1-4), Pittsburgh 2-10 (Page 2-4, Brown 0-1, McCarroll 0-1, Troutman 0-1, Krauser 0-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Wisconsin 62 (Morley 9), Pittsburgh 79 (Troutman 14). Assists-Wisconsin 9 (Harris 4), Pittsburgh 10 (Krauser 3). Total fouls-Wisconsin 20, Pittsburgh 17. A-18,866.

Regional highlights

Top performer: Oklahoma State's Joey Graham scored all but one of his 21 points in the first half as the Cowboys took a commanding 41-19 lead over Memphis.

Big surprise: The surprise is that there was none. The only regional without notable upsets is going according to form as the top four seeds - Saint Joseph's, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest - all advance.

He said it: "We had to jump on them from the get-go. Tonight was just one of those nights when the rim felt like an ocean." - Oklahoma State's Joey Graham

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