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NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT: EAST REGIONAL

Pittsburgh upends Xavier to reach Elite Eight

Levance Fields makes two key baskets in final minute to lift top-seeded Panthers to 60-55 victory.

March 27, 2009|Chris Dufresne

BOSTON — Pittsburgh is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974 after an ugly 60-55 win over Xavier that might be described, in NCAA tournament parlance as: survive and Levance.

Senior guard Levance Fields scored two key baskets in the final minute Thursday night -- a long three-pointer and a layup off a steal -- to lift top-seeded Pittsburgh to the East regional semifinal at TD Banknorth Garden.

"I never get tired of watching Levance take big shots," Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's made them year after year. Our guys believe in him. I believe in him. And that's all that matters."

Pittsburgh (31-4) plays Villanova on Saturday with a trip to next week's Final Four in Detroit in the balance.

Thursday's game was played at a grinding, halting pace as neither team shot well, to put it mildly.

Pittsburgh, the winning team, made only 22 of its 65 field-goal attempts, its shooting percentage of 33.8% only a tick better than fourth-seeded Xavier, which made 21 of 64 (32.8%).

The only player who made more than half his shots was Xavier's Dante Jackson, who made four of seven attempts.

Xavier had a 37-29 halftime lead but was then held scoreless for the first 6:21 after intermission.

Pittsburgh needed only one good minute, though, and two sweet shots by Fields.

Xavier took a 54-52 lead with 1:51 left when Jackson, Xavier's sophomore guard, wriggled inside the lane and banked in a shot. Fields answered, with 53 seconds left, with his three-pointer, straight away, from way beyond the three-point line.

"The shot that Levance Fields hit says it all about a senior point guard," Xavier Coach Sean Miller said.

The Musketeers got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but DeJuan Blair jostled the ball away from B.J. Raymond at the top of the key and Fields took the loose ball and raced for a layup that put Pitt up by three.

"I happened to be anticipating that," Fields said, "and once it popped free I was off to the races."

Instead of trying to tie the score with a three, Xavier freshman guard Terrell Holloway drove and was fouled by Blair with 16 seconds left.

Holloway made one of two free throws, trimming the lead to two. Xavier then fouled Sam Young, whose two free throws with 13 seconds left effectively clinched the game.

The game marked, for Pitt, a significant breakthrough. The Panthers have advanced to the round of 16 five out the eight seasons but have not advanced beyond the regional seminal since the tournament was expanded to 64 in 1985.

"It definitely means a lot for us as players, the coach and the city," Young said. "It's something that everybody has been waiting for for a long time."

In 1941, Pittsburgh made it to the "Final Four," but only eight teams that year were invited to the tournament.

In 1974, when the tournament was a 32-team field, Pitt made a run to the regional finals before losing to David Thompson and North Carolina State, which went on to win the national championship after upsetting UCLA in the national semifinals.

Young led Pitt, and all scorers, with 19 points, Fields finished with 14 and Blair contributed 10 points and 17 rebounds.

B.J. Raymond led Xavier with 15 points, and Derrick Brown had 14.

Xavier's season ends at 27-8. The Musketeers had advanced to the Elite Eight twice this decade, losing last year to UCLA.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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