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Pittsburgh advances to third straight Big East final

3/15/2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- Defense has Pittsburgh back in the Big East Conference tournament championship game for the third straight year.

Pittsburgh shut down Boston College 61-48 Friday night and
extended its winning streak to eight games.

The Panthers (25-4) and ranked fifth in the nation, will play
Connecticut for the title Saturday night. UConn defeated Syracuse
80-67 in the semifinals Friday night and beat Pitt 74-65 in the
title game a year ago.

It was a technically admirable victory, achieved with airtight
defense that limited BC to its lowest scoring game of the season
and the fewest points the Eagles have ever scored in a Big East tournament game.

And a technical foul may have been the turning point.

It was a one-point game almost eight minutes into the first half
when Boston's Craig Smith and Pitt's Donatas Zavackas drew matching
technical fouls. The impact was far greater on BC because it was
Smith's third personal and forced him to the bench.

That opened the inside game and Pitt took advantage, surging to
a 24-12 margin. The Panthers were never threatened after that.

"Obviously, it took away a lot of our interior scoring, some of
the stuff we like to do,'' BC coach Al Skinner said. "Defensively
we couldn't do some of the things we wanted to do. It really just
changed the game. It hurt us a lot more than it hurt Pittsburgh.''

Pitt coach Ben Howland appreciated BC's dilemma.

"Anytime you lose one of your best players, it helps the other
team,'' he said. "So how did it change? It took their all-league
player out of the game and they are not as good without him in the
game.''

BC (18-11) managed just four field goals in the first half and
missed Smith's inside presence. The freshman, who scored 33 in the
Eagles' quarterfinal victory over St. John's on Thursday, played
just 26 minutes and scored 13 points. BC's Troy Bell led all
scorers with 21 points.

Bell said BC missed Smith's power game under the basket.

"We definitely needed Craig inside,'' he said. "He's our best
inside scorer and he's just a great presence in there.''

Zavackas shrugged off the technical to lead Pitt's scorers with
19 points. He also had 11 rebounds as the Panthers controlled the
boards, outrebounding BC 44-29. Julius Page scored 16 and Ontario
Lett had 11. Zavackas said the double technical surprised him.

"I knew I got fouled because he pushed me in the back,'' he
said. "I didn't say anything. I didn't do anything. I really don't
know what happened.''

Skinner said the Panthers controlled the game's tempo.

"They played their game,'' Skinner said. "They played the way
they wanted to play. That's a credit to them. I'm not sure we were
able to play the way we wanted to play. Some of that was in our
control and some of that was out of our control.''

It was the seventh time this season that Pitt's defense has held
an opponent under 50 points.

The Panthers played much of the second half without Brandin
Knight, who turned his right ankle and went to the dressing room
for treatment. Page injured his left leg midway throughout the
second half but returned to the game after being treated on the
sideline.