NEW YORK (AP) -- The Big East started its tournament with the top
two teams in the country expected to meet for a third time with the
championship at stake. It will end instead with sixth-seeded
Pittsburgh and ninth-seeded Syracuse playing for the title.
Pittsburgh (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today; No. 15 AP) reached the Big East title game for the fifth time in
six years with a 68-54 victory over No. 2 Villanova on Friday
night. That came a day after Syracuse beat top-ranked Connecticut
86-84 in overtime in the quarterfinals.
It's just the fourth and fifth times a team won three games to
reach the championship in the Big East. None of the previous three,
including West Virginia last year, won it all. Either the
Panthers (24-6) or defending champion Syracuse (22-11)
will end that streak Saturday night.
"I didn't think someone would do it this year because of the
depth of the conference, because of how much every game is going to
take out of you," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of winning four
games in as many days. "This is real impressive for both teams. It
doesn't surprise me, any of the upsets, because we knew we could
get beat any night."
It was almost a lot more than a just a loss for the Wildcats.
Allan Ray, a first-team all-Big East selection and Villanova's
second-leading scorer and rebounder, was hit in the right eye early
in the second half and taken to St. Vincent's Hospital.
"He couldn't see when he was here," Wright said. "And being
there, they did a great job there. Everybody did a great job. Our
trainer got right to him. ... An ophthalmologist rushed across town
and examined him. Now they said his vision's good and they're going
to release him."
Wright said "it actually looked a lot worse than it was. It'll
be a day-to-day prognosis now, but it's much, much better than they
The Wildcats (25-4) joined top-seeded Connecticut, third-seeded
West Virginia and fourth-seeded Marquette on the list of this
The Wildcats should still hold on to a No. 1 seeding for the
NCAA tournament, as should Connecticut.
"I thought our guys had a whole team effort, and our defense,
rebounding and decison-making was solid all the way through,"
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We were fortunate to beat a
very good team and we've got to get ready for Syracuse now."
Graves, a junior who started 25 games last season and none in
2005-06, had 18 points, one off his career high, while Fields, a
freshman, had a career-high 14. The two combined to go 13-for-25
from the field, including 5-for-12 from 3-point range.
"We feel we have a good group of guards also. Me and 'Tone come
in for Carl and Ron, and they start off and do a good job," Fields
said, referring to starters Carl Krauser and Ronald Ramon. "I
think we held our own."
The Panthers finished with a 45-22 advantage in rebounds and
they did a good job defensively, holding the Wildcats, who came in
averaging 76.2 points per game, to their second-lowest point total
of the season.
"We really haven't had a game like that this year where we just
felt like we couldn't get things going offensively," Wright said.
"I thought that Pittsburgh, once they got a hold of the game, did
a great job of just controlling the tempo and hitting big shots."
Randy Foye, the conference's player of the year, had 26 points
for Villanova, which shot 35.2 percent from the field (19-for-54),
including 29.2 percent on 3s (7-for-24).
Pittsburgh led 32-21 at halftime and just 32 seconds into the
second half, Ray was hit in the face as he and two Pittsburgh
players battled for the ball on the floor near the Villanova bench.
The senior guard remained on the floor for several minutes,
kicking his legs in obvious pain.
Wright said there was "no scratched cornea and the official
injury is soft tissue injury to right eye."
The Panthers led 50-38 when they started to milk the shot clock
on each possession. They made it work for four straight baskets
with less then 5 seconds left on the 35-second clock. The last of
the four was a drive by Fields with 3:21 left that made it 60-45.
That was the Panthers' final field goal and they went 8-for-12
from the free throw line over the final 1:55.
"I think our players on the bench ... you have to watch out for
us now," Graves said. "Everybody should know that they have to
watch out for us now. We're a deep team, we play well together and
share the ball. That's all that counts."
Pittsburgh forward Levon Kendall, who missed the West Virginia
game with back spasms, had six points and seven rebounds in 23
minutes on Friday.
Pitt beat 11th-seeded Louisville 61-56 in the opening round and
West Virginia (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today; No. 19 AP) 68-57 in the quarterfinals.