March 05, 2005

(24) Pittsburgh 85, Notre Dame 77

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chris Taft sparked Pittsburgh in the opening minutes with a rebound basket, a slam dunk and a pair of shots inside.

Taft finished with a career-high 26 points to lead the 24th-ranked Panthers, who had 56 points in the paint, to an 85-77 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday.

``I hit a couple of jump hooks in a row and just kept going to that,'' said Taft, who scored eight of his team's first 12 points. ``I was yelling for the ball like crazy.''

Chevon Troutman had 22 points and Carl Krauser added 15 for the Panthers (20-7, 10-6), who posted their fourth straight 20-win season, clinched fifth place in the Big East and a first-round bye in the league tournament.

``They're a very good basketball team and frankly, they were a little tougher than us,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

The Irish (17-9, 9-7), who lost for the third time in four games, fell to sixth place to miss out on the first-round bye and hurt their hopes for an NCAA tournament berth. The Irish scored just 24 points in the paint.

``They just outplayed us,'' said Irish forward Torin Francis, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. ``We just weren't aggressive enough. They were more physical than us and it turned into a loss.''

The Panthers were too much for the Irish inside, shooting 57 percent for the game -- their second-best performance of the season.

``I think our big guys were really good at passing the ball between each other,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

Colin Falls, who scored a career-high 28 points with a school-record tying eight 3-pointers, gave Notre Dame a 43-42 lead 5 minutes into the second half on a pair of free throws. But the Panthers went on a 13-0 run, with Taft scoring seven points. Except for a free throw by Taft, all the points were scored on baskets inside.

Mark McCarroll capped the run with a rebound basket -- two of 13 second-chance points by the Panthers -- as Pitt opened a 58-43 lead.

The Irish cut the lead to 60-56 when Chris Thomas made a pair of free throws with 6:50 left. They had a chance to get closer, but Falls missed a 3 and Thomas missed a 15-foot jumper. Thomas missed his first 10 shots and finished 2-of-13 with 12 points.

Pitt, which outscored the Irish 12-0 on fastbreak points, then scored five quick points. Antonio Graves, who had 11 points, scored on an acrobatic, left-handed layup. Troutman added a basket and free throw.

After Thomas made his first shot, a 10-foot jumper from the baseline, the Panthers put the game away with a 7-0 run.

Taft added 11 rebounds and four blocks in his second straight strong game after playing poorly in Pitt's recent three-game losing streak.

``That was on my mind,'' Taft said. ``Coming here from the airport I was telling myself, 'There's no way I'm playing like I did when we were at home.'''

(1) LSU 79, (21) Georgia 65

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Top-ranked LSU didn't a TV replay this time. Seimone Augustus and Temeka Johnson were more than enough to put away Georgia and send the Lady Tigers into the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Augustus had 22 points and Johnson a career-high 17 assists to lead the Lady Tigers past No. 21 Georgia 79-65 on Saturday night.

LSU (29-1) won its 16th straight game and will play for the league's automatic NCAA bid Sunday against No. 5 Tennessee or No. 18 Vanderbilt.

The Lady Tigers overcame a career-high 33 points by Georgia's Tasha Humphrey, the SEC freshman of the year.

``Last night, I started late,'' Johnson said. ``My intention here was to start early.''

Augustus and Johnson made sure LSU didn't have to sweat out the ending as it did Friday against Alabama when the officials had to consult a TV replay before changing Alabama's tying 3-pointer to a 2-point goal in the 60-59 win.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman said the Alabama game set off warning lights about her team's execution. ``We went back to the drawing board and were able to correct some things for tonight,'' she said.

Indeed, LSU was much crisper at the Bi-Lo Center than the opener.

With Johnson speeding up court and Augustus, the league's player of the year, on the other end to finish, LSU reached its fifth tournament final. It won the crown in 1991 and 2003.

Still, it took some time to put away the Lady Bulldogs (22-9).

Humphrey's inside basket made it 55-all with 10:54 to go and Georgia was still within a basket, 67-65, about 5 minutes later on Cori Chambers jumper.

Then LSU's quickness and strength took over, holding the Lady Bulldogs scoreless in the final 5:02.

Georgia coach Andy Landers said his team had done a credible job rebounding with LSU until the final stretch. ``That's a problem,'' he said. ``We had done a very good job up until then. ... That was our undoing.''

Augustus wrestled away a rebound and converted the follow shot to extend the lead. Florence Williams added a basket and the Lady Tigers were on their way to their fourth win in the last five games with Georgia.

Williams had 16 points, Sylvia Fowles 12 and Johnson 10.

Landers, in his 26th season at Georgia, said he got caught violating one of his cardinal rules -- always use man-to-man defense. Landers kept an extra person back under the basket on defense to help hold off Augustus and Fowles. The only problem was that Williams hit several uncontested jumpers from the foul line.

``I sinned tonight,'' Landers said. ``I went junk defense, something I haven't done in 30 years. I need to get up early tomorrow and go to church and renew my faith in man-to-man.''

Johnson had 11 of her career-best assists in the opening half. The total surpassed her mark of 15, which the senior accomplished three times.

Humphrey led the way for Georgia, bettering her point total of 32 set last month against Kentucky. Georgia awaits the NCAA tournament selections on March 13 when its expected to receive its 11th straight bid.

LSU tried to put this game away early. After Scholanda Hoston took a long pass from Johnson for an easy layup, LSU was ahead 35-23 with 1:45 left.

Humphrey, who had 19 first-half points, kept Georgia in it. She hit two baskets and the Lady Bulldogs only 3-pointer of the half down the stretch to trail 37-30 at the break.

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