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Stifling defense. Big plays. A player who steps up at the biggest moments. These were the key components of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And coincidentally, these are also the key components of the 2008-09 Pitt Panthers.

Defense, you ask? How about a grand total of 18 points surrendered in the second half? And big plays? They don't get any bigger than Levance Fields' ridiculous three-pointer, followed by a steal and layup, in the closing minute of last night's contest. If you're looking for the college basketball equivalent of Ben Roethlisberger, look no further than Fields. You can feel confident when the ball is in his hands at crunch time.

And that's why, despite the close calls, this Pitt team is in great shape to continue to move on even further: they've proven that they can handle adversity. Sure, being down eight at the end of the first half was certainly disheartening. But the Panthers came out as a different team for the final 20 minutes. Guys stepped up on D. Shots were falling. Hustle plays were paying dividends. And even though they were still down entering the final 60 seconds, this team somehow found a way. That's the sign of a true champion.

You can look at the 33% shooting, at the 26% three-point shooting, or the 63% free-throw shooting with skepticism. You can look at Dejuan Blair's line and wonder how a guy who plays that close to the basket can go 5-for-16. But those numbers only tell part of the story. The fact is that Pitt still topped Xavier in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. And while Blair only had 10 points, he had a priceless 17 rebounds. And guess what? He stayed out of foul trouble, too, something that's quietly gone unnoticed during this series of close shaves.

So Pitt moves on, despite an awesome effort from Sean Miller's Musketeers, who certainly did their school proud. Would it have been nice to win as decisively as, say, Villanova did over Duke? Sure, but guess what: when the two teams tip off this weekend, the score will be 0-0, and what happened in previous rounds will have no bearing on the outcome. Except for the end of the game. Which has proven time and time again to be owned by one Levance Fields.
Xavier-Pitt boxscore [ESPN]
Fields' late 3-pointer lifts Pitt to Elite 8 [PG]
Pitt's Levance Fields is one guard who gets the point [Daily News/Mike Lupica]
Drama Nothing New For Pitt [ESPN/Andy Katz]
Fields' heroics lift Pitt past Xavier [SI/Pablo Torre]

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Unknown said...

In the annals of Pitt sports history, that 3 with 50 seconds to play will go down as legendary. You just knew they were going to pull it out when that shot went down. I almost don't even care that he played a rather poor game to that point (and, to be fair, the last two games as well). Considering the pressure they had coming into this tournament, that shot was epic.

Unknown said...

My favorite moment came as Levance was breaking away for that late lay-up following the steal, DeJuan raised his arms up in celebration like a QB who just threw a deep touchdown pass. Rewatch the highlights...its a great defensive play orchestrated by DeJuan, Levance, and Gil Brown.

We are finally ELITE!

CapitolMAN said...

What a relief! Good point about the defense stymieing the Musketeers in the second half. They clamped down and Xavier's circus shots were no longer falling.

When will the punditocracy - like the grouchy, juvenile Chas Freeman at - recognize that perhaps the opposition plays up to the level of Pitt, rather than Pitt playing down to the level of its opponent?

Pitt may win ugly, but they repeatedly have shown greater poise than the opposition and that means so much in the pressure-packed tourney.

diggler said...

let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

levance fields compared to ben roethlisberger? please. fields doesn't have one let alone multiple championships. and don't even bring up big east tournament titles, cause that means squat.

Pitt made it to the elite 8 round, barely. congrats and let's leave the comparisons go for a little while longer.

BurressWithButterflywings said...

Inch or a mile,they're still going.

These may be 3 ugly wins but there is no such thing as a pretty loss.

Unknown said...

Not that I expected any different, but Bob Smizik is being his typical wet-blanket self about the win. Yeesh, has the guy had one positive thing to say about ANYTHING in recent memory??

Anonymous said...

That was the biggest shot in the history of Pitt basketball.

Lee-Lee has icewater in his veins. Ice water!

It was nice to see DeJuan play like himself in the second half. I almost feel like there's a concerted effort to have him play a softer game in the first half in the Tournament. It feels like Dixon is saying, "If we can be even without our big guy banging down low, then we should be able to win in the second half when he really goes to work."

Don't know if that's the best strategy, but it is keeping him out of foul trouble, though his scoring is down over the last two games.

I think the regional final will be a typical rough and tumble Big East game. And I also think the Panthers' time has finally come.

Hail to Pitt!

Unknown said...

how is jermaine dixon's failed dunk not getting any time? to me that was the highlight of the game

Anonymous said...

No one is talking about Sam Young making both end of a 1&1 at the end.

For all the poor free throw shooting we've seen over the last 8 years, it was great to see Sammy sink 'em both to put the nail in the coffin.

Nick sounds like a Penn State fan. Congrats on the NIT, pal.

Someone Somewhere said...

As Mike Tomlin once said: "style points are overrated". The two sets of digits on the scoreboard are the only thing that matters.

Villanova is arguably playing the best basketball in the country right now (if Pitt shoots 32.8% on Saturday I think they'll lose by 10), but how will they will react with the game tied and 60 seconds remain? We know that Pitt knows how to handle this situation. Anyone looks great winning by 20, it's the true test of a team's meddle and character when their backs are against the wall and the clock is ticking down. Pitt has been there, and I have a feeling like they are going to be there again...I know who I'm going to believe in when that time comes.

okel dokel said...

Living in the Philly area, the Villanova fans and the band wagon attachments are confident they are going to the final four because they beat Pitt this year.

I hope Pitt wins so I can just smile that smile.

jmarinara said...

LF's three point shot, was the most clutch moment in Panther Basketball history. . . . so far.

I think this team can win three more games, and beat anyone remaining in the tournament. Will they? We shall all see.

I, for one, can't wait to find out.

Unknown said...

Actually, I consider myself fans of both teams (oh my gosh you can't do that!!! PICK ONEE!!!! whatever), I just thought that was hilarious and something that we could laugh about, since Fields was there to put it in.

And, Final Four of the NIT qualifies as a huge success for a generally inept PSU program.