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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Oklahoma State Passes Its Physical, 63-51

Cowboys adjust to Pittsburgh's rough style in the second half and advance to the regional final.

March 26, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was a virtual standoff for 32 minutes, Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh knocking horns like bighorn sheep.

Then, in a matter of minutes, the fight was over.

Oklahoma State went on a 17-5 run in one put-it-away span Thursday night and slogged out of Continental Airlines Arena with a 63-51 victory in an East Rutherford Regional semifinal game.

Oklahoma State (30-3) earned the hard-fought right to play Saint Joseph's on Saturday for one of four tickets to next week's Final Four.

The Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh game was everything as advertised: rough, tough, ragged and generally boring.

Only one of Oklahoma State's two standout guards was on his game, though, but one was enough.

While point guard John Lucas made only two of his seven shots, Tony Allen picked up the scoring with a game-high 23 points on eight-of-14 shooting.

Lucas, though, did pick apart the Pittsburgh defense for six second-half assists.

"They did a real good job on me by keeping my shot selections down," Lucas said. "I just had to show a different part of my game and that's to get everybody else involved."

Perhaps the real surprise was that Oklahoma State wore down Pittsburgh, and not the other way around.

Pittsburgh (31-5) entered with the steel-mill reputation, giving up only 56 points a game.

But it was Oklahoma State that put the clamps down when it counted.

The nitty-gritty secret?

"Make them play defense more than we play defense," Lucas said. "Like coach always says, you can rest on offense."

The game was crawling in the second half and you wondered whether either team would crack the 50-point barrier.

This scrum appeared headed for a last-minute conclusion after Pittsburgh guard Carl Krauser tied the score, 42-42, with 7:51 left.

The biggest lead for either team had been six points.

Then, Oklahoma State kicked up the defensive pressure, boxed out, refused to allow Pittsburgh second chances and tired a seemingly tireless opponent.

"They seemed to pull away from us in the second half," Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon said.

Oklahoma State stretched the lead to 50-44 on Joey Graham's three-point basket.

Jaron Brown countered with a three-point basket to cut the lead to three with 4:44 left. But Oklahoma State went on a 9-0 run that featured a three-point basket by Tony Allen, a fastbreak lay-up by Janavo Weatherspoon off a turnover and baskets by Allen and Lucas.

Coach Eddie Sutton said it was important for Oklahoma State to stay patient against a team that wanted to slow the tempo.

"No one in our league massages the ball and lengthens the game like they do," Sutton said. "Just look at their scores."

Sutton, though, also knew Pittsburgh's strategy was not conducive for come-from-behind victories.

"It's very hard to play catch-up," he said. "It seemed to me that fatigue set in there in the second half."

Pittsburgh, college basketball's winningest team the last three seasons, ran out of offense down the stretch, unable to crack 60 points in its last four games.

Pittsburgh had 58 points in its Big East Conference title loss to Connecticut and scored 53 and 59 points in NCAA tournament victories against Central Florida and Wisconsin.

No one has had a rougher time of late than senior shooting guard Julius Page, who made only two of 11 shots against Oklahoma State.

Page, who averages 16 points a game, finished with five.

He made only nine of 38 shots in three NCAA tournament games.

Page, along with seniors Jaron Brown and Toree Morris, helped turn Pittsburgh's program around.

Page, though, felt he didn't do enough.

"I'm upset," he said. "I had a good career, but we never made it past the Sweet 16.

"This is going to stick with me for a while."

Krauser led Pittsburgh with 15 points and Brown added 11.

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