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Pittsburgh puts end to the magic

Panthers hold off upstart Virginia Commonwealth in overtime, 84-79, setting up a Sweet 16 game against Howland and UCLA.

March 18, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Virginia Commonwealth was looking for a little more last-moment magic, and almost got it.

The team that upset Duke trailed Pittsburgh by 19 points Saturday, then used a tenacious trapping press to come back, landing in overtime after Pittsburgh's Levance Fields missed two free throws with 2.1 seconds left in regulation.

Then Pittsburgh grabbed back the game it nearly gave away, and the third-seeded Panthers escaped with an 84-79 overtime victory over 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth.

"The only way we were going to stop fighting was if the time ran out," said Eric Maynor, the Virginia Commonwealth point guard whose jumper with 1.8 seconds left decked Duke in the first round Thursday.

Pittsburgh (29-7) moves on to a West Regional semifinal against UCLA on Thursday at San Jose, a game that pits UCLA Coach Ben Howland against the team he used to coach, now coached by his friend and former assistant, Jamie Dixon.

Forced to overtime, Pittsburgh finally steadied itself in front of a crowd of 18,801 at HSBC Arena, going ahead by seven with a little more than two minutes left on consecutive three-pointers by Fields -- a bit of redemption -- and Ronald Ramon.

"Once we got to overtime, I thought we showed tremendous heart," Dixon said.

It still wasn't over. After VCU's Jamal Shuler drove the baseline and put back his own miss with 34 seconds left, the Rams trailed by only three.

Pittsburgh's Sam Young missed two more free throws with 32 seconds left, and a driving layup by Maynor cut the lead to one.

Then the Panthers finally made some free throws -- two by Mike Cook with 19 seconds left, and two more by Young with seven seconds left.

Virginia Commonwealth's attempt to reach the Sweet 16 seemed doomed when Pittsburgh used its size and strength, along with stout defense, to take a 41-26 halftime lead.

But midway through the second half, VCU turned up the pressure with its trapping press, forcing turnover after turnover, trimming the lead from 17 with less than 12 minutes left to 10 with eight minutes left. The Rams finally drew even with 1:42 to play when B.A. Walker made a steal and pulled up for a quick three.

Virginia Commonwealth (28-7) even led by two with 52 seconds left on a putback by Jesse Pellot-Rosa, but Pittsburgh quickly answered.

As the final moments of regulation ticked away with the score tied, 69-69, Fields drove the lane, but his shot was swatted away by the Rams' Michael Anderson. The whistle blew, though, and a foul on Pellot-Rosa sent Fields to the line with 2.1 seconds left. He missed both.

The VCU players, using the heavy gold chain Coach Anthony Grant gave them to symbolize their collective strength, draped it around their necks and touched it. But this time, the magic ran out.

Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh's 7-foot center, scored 14 points despite feeling ill. Walker and Pellot-Rosa each scored 20 for Virginia Commonwealth, and Maynor had 14 points and eight assists.

*

robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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