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NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

Howland, Pittsburgh Pass Second-Round Screen Tests

March 24, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Boston — The auditions came complete with replays, expert analysis and commercial breaks.

All UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero had to do to evaluate the top candidates to become the next Bruin coach was tune in to NCAA tournament telecasts over the weekend.

What impressed him the most? There was Gonzaga's persistence under Mark Few, Utah's ingenuity under Rick Majerus, Marquette's triple-digit firepower under Tom Crean.

Pittsburgh's toughness under Ben Howland had to rank near the top.

Behind brutish defense, brisk passing and brawny rebounding, the Panthers thumped Indiana, 74-52, Sunday in a second-round Midwest Regional game at the FleetCenter.

Seventh-seeded Indiana, which advanced to the NCAA final last season, had not played Pittsburgh in 61 years. Coach Mike Davis sounded as if he wouldn't mind waiting even longer for a rematch.

"We hadn't played a team like that all year," he said. "They don't waste any motion, they pass to the open player. And if you aren't strong to the basket, they'll take it from you. If you throw a bad pass they steal it."

The victory was the 11th in a row for second-seeded Pittsburgh (28-4), which used the same ingredients to roll to Big East regular-season and tournament titles.

Four Panther players scored in double figures, led by forward Jaron Brown, who slashed to the basket for 20 points on eight-of-nine shooting.

"Sometimes I think we are too unselfish," Howland said.

"Making a good pass gets our guys more fired up than making a shot."

Pittsburgh had 16 assists, including seven by senior guard Brandin Knight, who also scored 17 points and made two three-point baskets when the Panthers seized control late in the first half.

No surprise there. The Panthers led the nation in assists per basket. Their interior passing led to 42 points in the paint, nearly double that of Indiana.

Panther guard Julius Page held Indiana sharpshooter Tom Coverdale to six points while contributing 13 points, including a three-point basket that put the game away, 55-43, with 6:35 to play.

No surprise there. Page, a junior, is considered among the best perimeter defenders in the nation. The decision to put him on Coverdale instead of Hoosier freshman Bracey Wright was made by assistant Jamie Dixon.

"We felt like Coverdale is the heart and soul of their team," Howland said.

Certainly he was during Indiana's first-round victory over Alabama, scoring 23 points. With Page stalking Coverdale's every move, the Hoosiers appeared lost, shooting 43.2% and committing 16 turnovers.

"[Page] is the best defender I've faced in my whole career," Coverdale said.

Davis was less than kind to the Hoosiers (21-13), saying, "This is the most selfish team I've been around. There are only one or two guys who could start for anyone else.

"So why don't they play the way I want them to play?"

Indiana was scoreless the last 6:33 of the first half and Pittsburgh extended a one-point lead to 31-21.

The Hoosier drought continued for the first two minutes of the second half and the margin was never closer than four thereafter, despite Knight sitting out six minutes with foul trouble.

Pittsburgh will face Marquette on Thursday in Minneapolis, giving Guerrero a chance to watch Howland and Crean go head-to-head. Meanwhile, the Bruin athletic director is expected to begin arranging interviews with Few and Majerus, and perhaps others.

Unless negotiations progress more rapidly than expected with Few or Majerus, UCLA is almost certain to pursue Howland after the season. If the Panthers have their way, the wait will extend more than another week.

"We've now been to two straight Sweet 16s, and that's not special," Knight said.

"We don't want to settle for a Sweet 16. I know our guys aren't satisfied with it."

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