UConn-Pitt: Panthers Claim Rematch with Huskies

Jon CavanaughContributor IMarch 7, 2009

Sam Young poured in 31 points and 10 rebounds as No. 4 Pittsburgh defeated No. 1 Connecticut for the second time this year, 70-60.


Pittsburgh is now the first team to beat a No. 1-ranked team twice in the same year, since North Carolina beat Duke twice in 1998. Pittsburgh also most likely clinched a share of the Big East title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with the impressive victory.


Before the contest, DeJuan Blair referred to his matchup with Hasheem Thabeet as a “celebrity death match.”  Blair out-muscled and out-played UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet the first time around, but only needed to be solid in their rematch to get his team a win. 


Thabeet was out to prove that his performance in the first game was a fluke and he did, scoring 14 points with 13 rebounds and five blocks. Thabeet won the statistical battle, but Blair played a solid game and finished with eight points and eight rebounds.


Blair didn’t have to be the hero this time, as Young picked up the scoring slack and proved to be the difference. UConn struggled to defend against him the entire game.


Young scored at will, driving to the basket and going 3-of-5 from three-point land. Pitt shot a collective 44.1 percent from the three-point arc and seemed to grab every key rebound and loose ball.


Pittsburgh (28-3, 15-3 Big East) has proved to be the "kryptonite" of the No. 1 Huskies.  UConn (27-3, 15-3 Big East) normally out-muscles and out-rebounds its opponents, but Pittsburgh seems to have even more power and strength than the Huskies. The teams tied with 37 rebounds in this game.


The entirety was a fierce contest and a joy to watch. Pittsburgh opened a 10-point lead midway through the first half and rarely looked back. 


It wasn’t until the second half that UConn went on any sort of run. Trailing 52-38 after a timeout with 12:24 left, the Huskies made a game out of it, after Blair received his third foul and was forced to the bench.


UConn's A.J. Price scored on three straight possessions, including two three-pointers, and cut the lead to 52-48 with 9:24 left. Then Thabeet picked up his third foul, but Jim Calhoun would choose not to sit him, resting Price instead.


The move seemed to work, as Thabeet was able to rest during the timeout, after a Stanley Robinson dunk cut the lead to 52-50. 


UConn was well within striking distance, but Pitt continued to get the offensive rebounds and make them count. Young scored on a drive to the basket and Brad Wanamaker added a thunderous dunk, after another Pitt board to put the lead back to six, 56-50.


Price would answer again for UConn, hitting a three-pointer to make it 56-53 with 5:52 left. UConn turned the ball over twice in their next possessions, though, and Young stretched the lead back to eight points with a dunk and a free throw as Pitt never looked back and UConn ran out of gas.


In addition to Young’s 31 points, Levance Fields played the entire game and scored 10 points, despite a back injury. Wanamaker added 14 points from the bench. 


Connecticut was lead by 19 points from Price, 14 from Thabeet, and 11 from Jeff Adrien.  Kemba Walker also provided a nice spark with 10 points off the bench; he often times kept the Huskies in the game. 


Pittsburgh made an emphatic statement to the NCAA selection committee with their second win of the season against No. 1-ranked Connecticut. They extended their home winning streak to 21 while outworking and out-muscling the Huskies, and deserve to be a No. 1 seed in the tourney.


The Big East could see two different teams hold No. 1 seeds in the tourney, as Louisville and Connecticut are still in the mix. But Pittsburgh left no doubt that they deserve the No. 1 seed with a dominant performance Saturday afternoon.