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UCONN, PITT EARN OPENING ROUND BIG EAST TOURNAMENT WINS
By Lauren Kirschman
Big East Tournament Day One
No. 9 Connecticut 81, No. 16 DePaul 67
Last season, Kemba Walker carried the Connecticut Huskies to five wins in five days and a Big East tournament championship. Whether or not the Huskies can move through the gauntlet to earn another title remains to be seen. But if they do win five consecutive contests again, it’ll likely be thanks to Jeremy Lamb.
Lamb led Connecticut with 25 points, four assists and five rebounds in the Huskies’ 81-67 win over DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament on Tuesday afternoon. Connecticut, the No. 9 seed, started 7-7 from beyond the arc and didn’t miss a 3-point shot until Roscoe Smith was off the mark with 4:40 left in the first half.
The Blue Demons consistently left Connecticut players open on the perimeter, seeming willing to chance the Huskies beating them from the outside. Connecticut took advantage and, after letting DePaul hang around early, closed the half on a 6-0 run that gave the Huskies a 46-33 advantage
Connecticut started the second half on a 15-4 scoring streak and were never really threatened again.
The closest DePaul came was 70-61 with 7:15 remaining, but a quick 6-0 UConn run eliminated any hope of a comeback by the No. 16-seeded Blue Demons.
With the win, the Huskies have now won 12-consecutive postseason games stretching back to their Big East tournament and NCAA Tournament runs last season.
Keys to the Game: Connecticut’s outside shooting. The Huskies finished 8-13 from beyond the arc with Jeremy Lamb going 3-6 and Ryan Boatright going 2-2. Boatright provided Connecticut with an additional scorer alongside Lamb as he put up 19 points and dished out seven assists. Connecticut, one of the most talented teams in the conference, showed how good it can be, but the Huskies will face a tougher challenge in No. 8 seed West Virginia on Wednesday.
Promising Future: Despite losing by double digits, DePaul fought back from a 24-point second half deficit to cut the Connecticut lead to nine points. Blue Demon star Cleveland Melvin scored 19 points. Backup guard Moses Morgan also finished with 19 points, 16 of which came in the second half. DePaul, a consistent bottom dweller in the Big East, and its young talent could find themselves taking a step up in the Big East standings next season.
Area of Concern: Despite solid shooting from the floor, the Huskies struggled from the free throw line (11-24). Connecticut’s matchup with West Virginia tomorrow should be closer, so foul shot could be a key factor in whether the Huskies’ continue on their quest for another magical run.
“When we go into the tournaments, obviously it’s a new season. You go into the tournament and try to work hard, and then this year … playing without Kemba … we’ve been finding ourselves and everybody on the team has been stepping up and just been we’ve been preparing all year for this time.” –Jeremy Lamb
“I think we’re seeing a cultural shift in terms of guys really working and staying together, and I think any time you have a work ethic and you stay together with good chemistry and you add talent and ability, then you can’t help but move forward, so that’s what I see moving forward.” –Oliver Purnell
No. 13 Pitt 73, No. 12 St. John’s 59
Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson finally won a Big East tournament game on Tuesday afternoon. Despite playing on three Pitt teams that finished in the top-four in the conference and earned a double bye, it took a No. 13 seed and a first round game for the two seniors to earn a victory in Madison Square Garden.
With the 73-59 win, the Panthers keep their hopes — however dim — of earning a NCAA Tournament bid alive. The seniors led Pitt in scoring as Gibbs finished with 20 points and Robinson added 15. Five other Panthers scored at least five points.
While earning a win over fifth-seeded Georgetown tomorrow won’t be an easy task, the Panthers showed the offensive patience and solid shot selection on Tuesday that’s necessary to beat the Hoyas for the second time this season.
But the first time Pitt beat the Hoyas, it came at the Petersen Events Center in the midst of a four-game Pitt win streak.The Panthers haven’t played that well since.
Defense was the most important factor in Pitt’s first victory over the Hoyas and that will likely hold true again. Pitt held the Hoyas to 42 percent shooting — and 22 points in the first half — in the two teams’ first matchup. The Panthers also out rebounded Georgetown by 10.
While remaining patient against St. John’s matchup zone, the Panthers’ also played solid defense against the Red Storm. In order for the Panthers to win on Wednesday, they need to bring the same type of defensive performance.
Keys to the Game: Defense. After the game, Ashton Gibbs said that Pitt’s defensive performance carried over to the offensive end. The Panthers held St. John’s to 33 percent shooting, including 18 percent from beyond the arc. That defense, combined with the Panthers’ 57 percent shooting performance in the second half, allowed Pitt to pull away for the comfortable win.
Promising Future: Whether or not St. John’s’ stellar freshman stay to play at the collegiate level for another season remains unclear. That’s especially true for Maurice Harkless, the Big East Rookie of the Year, who scored 25 points against St. John’s. He went 10-16 from the field while the rest of the Red Storm finished 12-50.
Area of Concern: Turnovers. Pitt turned the ball over 13 times against St. John’s, a low number for the Panthers this season but concerning nonetheless. Pitt point guard Tray Woodall turned the ball over six times, which neutralized his six assists. As the Panthers’ floor leader, Woodall must take better care of the ball against the Hoyas. He dished out 10 assists in Pitt’s win over the Hoyas earlier this season.
“It’s definitely a little weird [getting our first Big East tournament win]. Especially the past three years, we had a lot more success in the regular season.” –Ashton Gibbs
“A lot of the shots that we took during that time were bad shots and I think if we would have slowed down and took our time … we would have been able to overcome that jump.” –Maurice Harkless
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REST OF 2012 BIG EAST TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Wednesday, March 7 – Second Round (ESPN)
Noon Connecticut vs. No. 8 West Virginia
2:00 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Georgetown
7:00 10/15 winner vs. No. 7 Louisville
9:00 11/14 winner vs. No. 6 South Florida
Thursday, March 8 – Quarterfinals (ESPN)
Noon 8/9/16 winner vs. No. 1 Syracuse
2:00 5/12/13 winner vs. No. 4 Cincinnati
7:00 7/10/15 winner vs. No. 2 Marquette
9:00 6/11/14 winner vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Friday, March 9 – Semifinals (ESPN)
7:00 Thursday afternoon winners
9:00 Thursday evening winners
Saturday, March 10 – Championship (ESPN)
9:00 Semifinal winners
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