8:00 PM ET, March 9, 2002
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
NEW YORK (AP) -- Connecticut hit the desperation shot in the second overtime and wore the smiles of champions. Pittsburgh missed its miracle heave at the end of the first overtime and was left in physical and emotional pain.A classic Big East tournament championship game will be remembered for a lot more than those two shots, however, as the 19th-ranked Huskies beat No. 7 Pittsburgh 74-65 in double overtime Saturday night for their fifth conference title. Two very good defensive teams played excellent defense for 50 minutes in a game that symbolized what the conference has been about since its inception. "That was one of the most physical games we have been involved in, and we think we're a pretty tough basketball team," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said after the first meeting of the season between the league's division winners. "I thought we stepped up and made plays to get another championship." The title is Connecticut's fifth, putting it one behind Georgetown for most championships in league history. The Huskies' last title was in 1999 when they went on to win the national championship. It was their seventh title game and sixth in eight years. "From when we came here in 1986 we always wanted to be part of what made this league successful," Calhoun said. "We wanted to win this and be the best in our neighborhood." Caron Butler, the tournament MVP, gave Connecticut (24-6) the lead for good at 66-64 on a turnaround jumper with 1:59 left in the second overtime. After Pittsburgh (27-5) missed two shots, Connecticut tried to run down the shot clock, and freshman Ben Gordon was tied up by two Panthers. The possession arrow was in the Huskies' favor, but there were only two seconds left on the 35-second clock. Taliek Brown took the inbounds pass, had nowhere to go and hoisted a 30-footer from straight on that went in and gave the Huskies a 69-64 lead. "I knew it was going in," Brown said, laughing. "I didn't have nothing to lose. I just threw it up and it went in." It took the air out of Pittsburgh, which had its chance for college basketball lore at the end of the first overtime. Brandin Knight, the league's co-player of the year along with Butler, slipped on the court and injured his right knee just as Pittsburgh tied the game at 52 with 31 seconds left after his assist led to Jaron Brown's basket down low. Knight stayed down on the court for several minutes and was taken to the locker room after Connecticut missed two chances at winning it in regulation. He came out of the same tunnel an injured Willis Reed did in 1970 for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and went to the bench with 1:02 left in the overtime and Connecticut leading 60-58. Ontario Lett tied it for the Panthers on a drive with 23 seconds left. The Huskies ran down the clock, but Gordon was tied up and the arrow gave the ball to the Panthers with 1.7 seconds to go. Knight limped to the scorer's table and reported in. Jaron Brown inbounded the ball near midcourt, got it to Knight and his 40-footer as the buzzer bounced off the rim as Knight fell to the floor in obvious pain. Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said Knight asked to go back in the game. "I have unbelievable confidence in Brandin Knight, so if anybody was going to make that shot it was going to be he," Howland said. "And you saw it hit rim." Knight didn't play at all in the second overtime, sitting on the bench with an ice bag on his knee. Howland said Knight had a sprained knee and would undergo an MRI on Sunday in Pittsburgh. "Any time you lose your best player, your point guard, your quarterback," Howland said without finishing the thought. "Our team showed a lot of character. We had a lot of tired bodies out there. It was a heck of a college basketball game." Knight, who sat slumped on the bench not even looking up during the final minute of the second overtime, was receiving treatment after the game and did not talk to reporters. Butler finished with 23 points for the Huskies, who have won nine straight, while Taliek Brown had 13 and Gordon 11. Brown was 1-for-11 from 3-point range in conference play this season and 6-for-24 overall. "There is nothing he really fears basketball-wise," Calhoun said of his sophomore point guard. "Sometimes that's great and sometimes it's not. That was a remarkable shot." Lett had 17 points for the Panthers, who had won their last eight. Knight and Donatas Zavackas each added 15. Knight had eight assists, tying the school record for a season with 229. Pittsburgh, which has set a school record for wins, was in the title game for the second straight year. The Panthers lost to Boston College last year in their first try at the championship. "We're moving on to the big dance now and we're just going to have to bounce back," Howland said, referring to the NCAA tournament. It was the second-longest title game in league history. Syracuse beat Villanova 83-80 in three overtimes in 1981.
|» Mar 9, 2002||@CONN 74, PITT 65||Recap|