March 29, 2007

West Virginia wins first NIT since 1942

NEW YORK - West Virginia has a championship to help lessen the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament. Frank Young and the Mountaineers shot past Clemson to their first NIT title in 65 years.

Young scored 24 points, including six 3-pointers, and De'Sean Butler added 20 points to help West Virginia beat Clemson 78-73 in the National Invitation Tournament final Thursday night.

The Mountaineers thought they had a good case to receive an NCAA bid, with a 9-7 mark in the tough Big East and a victory over UCLA. But they didn't make the cut.

"It's been a lot of fun to play in this tournament and all the emotions just built up as it went along," Young said. "Of course we wanted to be in the NCAA tournament, but to win this tournament, all the joy is still there. We're still happy about finishing our season with a win"

Young averaged over 22 points in the five games of the NIT and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

"It was gratifying just to see how far I've come as a player," Young said. "The trophy signifies that I did a pretty good job leading this team."

Young has stepped up in March. He averaged over 20 points in the Big East tournament. The senior followed that up with a stellar NIT to cap off his college career.

"That is as impressive a run as I've seen," West Virginia coach John Beilein said of his star. "He's just a believer, he gets on a roll and they just go to him. It just feeds off itself."

It was the Mountaineers' first NIT title since 1942 when Rudy Baric led West Virginia over Western Kentucky.

West Virginia (27-9) had advanced to the championship game by edging Mississippi State 63-62 on Darris Nichols' buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Nichols finished with 13 points and nine assists in the championship game.

The Mountaineers, who came from 14 down in the second half in the semifinal, didn't need a late-game rally this time, using a 12-2 to run at the end of the first half to take control of the game. The Tigers (25-11) trailed by double digits for the entire second half before a late 11-0 spurt cut it to the final margin.

K.C. Rivers scored 18 points and Vernon Hamilton added 16 for Clemson, which completed one of the most up-and-down seasons in school history. The Tigers started out 17-0 before losing nine of their next 11 games. They turned things around in late February winning five of six before falling to Florida State in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Clemson finished tied with the 1986-87 Tigers — led by Horace Grant — for most victories in school history. The Tigers were trying to become the third straight team from South Carolina to win the NIT. The University of South Carolina had won the last two titles.

"We had a good year," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We tied a school record for wins, we advanced to the final of the NIT, it was a successful season."

The Tigers advanced to the championship by holding off Air Force, 68-67, in the other semifinal.

West Virginia led 26-24 with 3:56 left in the first half before hitting four straight 3-pointers to take a 38-24 lead. Young, who averaged 13.7 points in the regular season, hit two 3s to start the spurt.

Rivers' layup with 41.9 seconds left ended the 12-0 run. West Virginia was 12-for-20 (60 percent) for the game.

"The story of the game is giving up 3s and them making 3s," Purnell said.

The Mountaineers last lost to Louisville in double overtime in the Big East tournament — also at the Garden — three weeks ago. They beat Delaware State, Massachusetts and North Carolina State to get to New York.

The Tigers fell to 0-2 all-time in the NIT championship. They lost to California in the 1999 title game. Clemson still has never won an NIT or NCAA men's basketball title.

March 26, 2007

(4) Rutgers 64, (3) Arizona St. 45

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Rutgers didn't have much of a reason to believe it could be a Final Four team a few months ago.

The Scarlet Knights didn't have any seniors, or seemingly any chance. Not without Cappie Pondexter, not after starting the season by losing four of seven. And not with a difficult draw in the NCAA tournament.

Believe now, Rutgers.

The scrappy Scarlet Knights are headed to their second Final Four, using a dominating performance from center Kia Vaughn and inspired play from the rest of the roster to claim a 64-45 victory over Arizona State on Monday night in the Greensboro Regional finals.

"It was sort of like a dream where we just felt ... as long as we stuck to our game plan -- and that's to continue to believe in ourselves -- then we can continue to get it done," forward Essence Carson said. "This entire run through the NCAA tournament has been sort of unreal, but at the same time we understand that all the hard work we put in put us there."

Vaughn had 17 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks while owning the lane. Matee Ajavon had 20 points, Carson added 11 and Epiphanny Prince had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Scarlet Knights (26-8), who led by 24 and held a 48-26 rebounding advantage in winning their seventh straight.

"They put up a fight, they put up a good one," said Vaughn, who at 6-foot-4 was at least two inches taller than any of the Sun Devils. "I had the advantage only because I kept working. ... They didn't let me get anything easy. I worked hard. I really did work. I had elbows everywhere, in the back. ... I just had to be strong and take control."

And largely because the Sun Devils had no answer inside for Vaughn, the Scarlet Knights can pack for Cleveland, where they will face LSU on Sunday in the Final Four. LSU beat Connecticut 73-50 to advance from the Fresno Regional.

"We definitely tried to go at her, but we didn't go at her very smart," said Aubree Johnson, who had two of her shots blocked by Vaughn. "She's obviously a great shot blocker."

The fourth-seeded Scarlet Knights almost saw their season end Saturday when top-seeded Duke had a chance to win it in the final second. But ACC player of the year Lindsey Harding missed two free throws with 0.1 second left and Rutgers escaped with a stunning 53-52 upset.

The youthful Knights -- who have five freshmen on the roster -- had no trouble dodging a letdown, thoroughly dominating third-seeded Arizona State and pulling another upset to reach their first Final Four since 2000.

"This has to be right there at the top, if not the top," coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

The players hammed it up at midcourt, dancing as they donned championship caps and T-shirts while thanking the several hundred fans who made the trip to Tobacco Road.

Stringer, the first coach to lead three programs to the Final Four, is headed to college basketball's biggest stage for the fourth time.

This run came with a Rutgers team that became the lowest seed to reach the Final Four since 2004, when both fourth-seeded LSU and seventh-seeded Minnesota advanced that far.

This game was supposed to be a rematch of a November game in the Virgin Islands, but the game was canceled when the 15-year-old brother of Johnson died of an enlarged heart, and players and coaches from both sides credited fate with setting up this matchup.

"After everything this team has been through this year, I was just going to tell them to have fun," Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said as her voice cracked. "I never thought we would make the tournament. With all the things we went through this year, I never thought we could do this. This is the most incredible team I've ever been a part of."

Rutgers used tough defense to take command, holding Arizona State to one field goal during the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half.

The Scarlet Knights gradually increased their lead with a basket here and a free throw there, all the while using occasionally relentless full-court pressure to turn the tables on the press-minded Sun Devils.

Prince's foul shot gave the Scarlet Knights their first double-figure lead of the game, 39-29, with 13:11 to play, and it never got much tighter after that.

Kirsten Thompson pulled Arizona State to 41-32 on a turnaround jumper moments later, but Rutgers reeled off three straight baskets: a 3-pointer by Prince, a turnaround jumper from Vaughn and a jump shot by Carson that made it 48-32 with 8:51 left and all but sealed it.

Briann January had 12 points in returning to the starting lineup after suffering a concussion for the Sun Devils (31-5), who advanced deeper into the tournament than any other team in school history. Before this season, Arizona State had never made it past the round of 16 in three tries.

The Sun Devils reverted to the poor shooting that plagued them in the first two rounds of the tournament. Arizona State, which shot just 36 percent in wins over UC Riverside and Louisville, was optimistic after making more than half of its shots against Bowling Green.

But those struggles returned when they could least be afforded, with Rutgers holding the Sun Devils to 32.7 percent shooting. They finished 5-of-17 from beyond the arc, and came close to a dubious scoring record in the regional finals -- barely surpassing Texas Tech's miserable 44-point performance against Tennessee in 2000.

"We took wide-open shots, and we missed," Turner Thorne said. "The 3s were open. We just took too many."

(3) LSU 73, (1) Connecticut 50

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- The talk coming into the NCAA tournament was about the coach LSU was missing. It's the center who is still dominating the middle that lifted the Lady Tigers to their fourth straight Final Four.

Sylvia Fowles overpowered Connecticut with 23 points, 15 rebounds and an intimidating defensive performance that led third-seeded LSU to a 73-50 victory over the top-seeded Huskies on Monday night in the Fresno Regional final.

A team in turmoil heading into the tournament after head coach Pokey Chatman abruptly resigned March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player, LSU (30-7) shook off any distractions and won four straight games under acting coach Bob Starkey.

The longtime assistant for both the men's and women's programs at LSU has an undefeated record as a head coach and looks to end his career that way with two more wins next week in Cleveland. Starkey said he has no aspirations to become the full-time coach.

LSU will play Rutgers in Sunday's national semifinal. The Scarlet Knights (26-8) beat Arizona State 64-45 earlier Monday night.

Connecticut (32-4) will be left watching the Final Four for the third straight year after making it that far the previous five seasons. This matches UConn's longest Final Four drought since making its first in 1991.

It was the Huskies' most lopsided tournament loss since losing 75-47 to Vanderbilt in the second round in 1992.

The Huskies, who won 72-71 at LSU last month, had no answers for Fowles, who dominated the game right from the start.

With long arms, quick feet, and a 6-foot-6 frame, Fowles is an intimidating presence in the middle of the defense. She blocked six shots, altered many others, had three steals, deflected passes and forced the Huskies into bad shots and turnovers.

The two players Fowles guarded most often -- Tina Charles and Kaili McLaren -- each went 0-for-5 from the field. UConn shot just 33 percent overall.

Fowles even showed off her passing skills with a pretty backdoor assist to RaShonta LeBlanc midway through the second half.

Fowles also got some help with some outside shooting from Allison Hightower and Ashley Thomas. Hightower hit three 3-pointers in the first half and Thomas hit a pair in the second after the Huskies cut LSU's lead to 12. The Lady Tigers led by at least 10 points for the final 26 minutes.

"Everybody always double teams Sylvia," Thomas said. "We knew we had to come out tonight and knock down shots. I did it and my teammates did it."

Thomas and Hightower scored 12 points apiece for LSU and Erica White added 11.

Renee Montgomery led UConn with 17 points and Mel Thomas added 13.

Fowles scored nine points during an 18-4 run early in the game to give the Lady Tigers a 22-10 lead. She outscored UConn on her own through the first 11:54, scoring 13 points to the Huskies' 12.

Hightower then hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-0 run that expanded LSU's lead to 34-17 with 3:46 left in the half.

Fowles had three steals and two blocks in the half and her presence inside helped force UConn into 13 first-half turnovers.

Houston committed five of them, including a pair of travels early in the game with Fowles lurking nearby. The Huskies went scoreless for nearly 5 minutes during the key LSU run.

UConn scored the final five points of the half to go into the break down 34-22 -- matching its biggest halftime deficit of the season and marking the third straight game the Huskies trailed at the half.

The attendance was 3,046 in an arena that seats about 15,556, as few fans from the two schools from the eastern half of the country made the long trip to California.

March 24, 2007

Rutgers stuns Duke on free-throw failure

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Duke's free-throw failure in the final second sent Rutgers to the regional finals. Epiphanny Prince went coast-to-coast for the go-ahead layup with 20 seconds left and Duke star Lindsey Harding missed two free throws with 0.1 seconds left, preserving fourth-seeded Rutgers' 53-52 upset of the top-seeded Blue Devils on Saturday in the semifinals of the Greensboro Regional.

Harding could have given the Blue Devils (32-2) the win — or at least forced overtime — when she stole an inbounds pass near midcourt, drove hard to the basket and was fouled by Myia McCurdy.

The ACC player of the year missed both free throws hard off the back iron, and Carrem Gay's tipback as the horn sounded failed to come close. Harding fell to her back and covered her face in horror, while the Scarlet Knights (25-8) celebrated at midcourt.

Matee Ajavon had 20 points for Rutgers, which advances to face Arizona State (31-4) on Monday night with a berth in the
Final Four on the line. The Scarlet Knights will make their second appearance in the round of eight since 2005, and they did it by denying the Blue Devils their sixth straight berth in the regional finals.

Duke led 52-48 entering the final minute before Ajavon started the rally with a 3-pointer with 48.5 seconds left.

The Blue Devils worked the ball around to center Alison Bales, who missed a long jumper, and the rebound was ripped from Wanisha Smith's hands by Prince, who went the length of the floor and hit a layup over Harding — the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive player of the year — to put Rutgers ahead to stay.

Duke brought the ball downcourt before Essence Carson stole the ball from Harding, and the Blue Devils fouled her with 5.6 seconds left before Harding came up with the steal on the subsequent inbounds pass.

Bales finished her Duke career by matching her season high of 21 points, and she blocked four shots but fell one shy of the
NCAA single-season record of 152. Gay added 10 points for the Blue Devils, whose two losses this season have come at the Greensboro Coliseum. They previously were upset three weeks earlier by North Carolina State in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.

Rutgers — which has five freshmen and no seniors on the roster — shot 57 percent in the second half and was determined to avenge an 85-45 loss to Duke three months earlier. It was the most lopsided defeat in coach C. Vivian Stringer's 11 seasons with the Scarlet Knights.

Duke blew a 10-point lead early in the second half, while Rutgers clawed back and twice tied it before rallying in the final moments.

March 21, 2007

Men's NIT: (1) West Virginia 71, (6) N.C. State 66

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Frank Young scored 25 points, including 14 straight in the second half, and West Virginia defeated North Carolina State 71-66 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

Young set the single-season school record with his first 3-pointer, then buried five more, including three in the last six minutes to help West Virginia advance to its first NIT semifinal since 1981. Young has 107 3-pointers for the year, eclipsing the mark of 101 set by Chris Leonard in 1992.

The Mountaineers (25-9), the top seed in the East Region, beat N.C. State for the second time this season. The sixth-seeded Wolfpack (20-16) had won five of their last six but couldn't contain Young, who hit consecutive 3-pointers to give WVU a 64-62 advantage with 2:52 left.

Alex Ruoff followed with another 3-pointer as the Mountaineers grabbed the edge for good at 67-65 with 2:00 left.

N.C. State's Courtney Fells missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with four seconds remaining. West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler then made two free throws, setting off a celebration at the Coliseum in Morgantown. Loudspeakers blared John Denver's "Country Roads" and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York."

The Mountaineers play South Region top seed Mississippi State in the semifinals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Ruoff finished with 15 points and had a career-high 11 assists. DaSean Butler added eight points off the bench.

N.C. State was led by Brandon Costner with 25 points. Engin Astur added 14 and Gavin Grant scored 12.

West Virginia built a 24-16 lead with 6:00 left in the first half. N.C. State, playing its seventh game in two weeks, narrowed the gap to 28-26 at the break, and then took its first lead, 34-33, on Atsur's 3-pointer with 17 minutes remaining.

The lead changed 13 times and there were six ties.

West Virginia's 25 wins are its most in 19 years.

N.C. State. which lost to West Virginia 71-60 on Dec. 6, has dropped four consecutive games to the Mountaineers, two of which have come in the NIT.

West Virginia won the NIT in 1942.

Women's NCAA: Ole Miss 89, Maryland 78

Maryland fell into Mississippi's trap and the defending NCAA champion never got out.

Mississippi used its stifling defense to steal the ball 15 times and force 29 Maryland turnovers and the Rebels upset the second-seeded Terrapins 89-78 in the Dayton Regional on Tuesday night.

Armintie Price scored 28 points to lead the Rebels (23-10), who will play No. 3 Oklahoma in the Dayton Regional semifinals. The third-seeded Sooners beat Marquette 78-47 on Monday.

Kristi Toliver led Maryland (28-6) with 24, including 14 in the second half when the Terps cut a 23-point lead to seven.

North Carolina State 78, Baylor 72, OT

Khadijah Whittington scored 15 of her career-high 23 points after halftime to extend the fourth-seeded Wolfpack's emotional season.

The win gave Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow her first trip to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in six years, sending the Wolfpack (25-9) to a matchup with Connecticut. N.C. State has won 12 of 14 since Yow returned from a 16-game leave to concentrate on her cancer treatment.

Bernice Mosby scored 26 points to lead the fifth-seeded Lady Bears (26-8), who were trying to reach the round of 16 for the fourth straight year.

Rutgers 70, Michigan State 57

Kia Vaughn had 12 of her 16 points in the first half and fourth-seeded Rutgers won on the Spartans' home court.

As a reward, the Scarlet Knights (24-8) play the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils on Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. -- about 50 miles from their campus.

Victoria Lucas-Perry scored 17, Rene Haynes had 14 points and Aisha Jefferson added 13 for the Spartans (24-9).

Bowling Green 59, Vanderbilt 56

Amber Flynn scored 19 points and seventh-seeded Bowling Green moved into the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the first time in school history.

The Falcons (31-3) became the first Mid-American Conference team to reach the round of 16. They will face No. 3 seed Arizona State on Saturday.

Liz Sherwood scored 18 points for Vanderbilt (28-6), but the Commodores trailed by 13 at the half and their second-half comeback fell short.

March 19, 2007

(8) Pittsburgh 71, (9) James Madison 61

PITTSBURGH -- Led by the first top-tier recruit that coach Agnus Berenato recruited at Pitt, the Panthers upstaged their successful men's program for one night and gained the first NCAA women's tournament victory in school history.

Now comes the hard part: Tennessee.

Marcedes Walker, too big and strong even for a veteran James Madison team, dominated at both ends of the court for 20 points and 15 rebounds and Pittsburgh shook off the stubborn Dukes for a 71-61 victory Sunday night.

Shavonte Zellous added 17 points for the eighth-seeded Panthers (24-8), who will meet top-seeded Tennessee in a second-round Dayton regional game Tuesday night -- and on Pitt's home court. The Panthers not only are making their initial appearance in the tournament, this is the first time they have been a host school.

"I told my athletic director, Jeff Long, before this game, `I just want to win this one. I just want to win this one,"' Berenato said. "Now I'm getting greedy and I want to win Tuesday night, too."

All those firsts added up to a disappointing last game of the season for James Madison (27-6), which has five seniors. The Dukes stayed close for most of the game despite a subpar performance from leading scorer Meredith Alexis, who was held seven points below her 18 points-per-game average and had trouble controlling Walker.

"I didn't do anything to particularly well to stop her," Alexis said of Walker. "She's a big kid and knows how to move her body well."

Or, exactly what Berenato thought when she persuaded the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Walker, now a junior, to attend Pitt.

"We kept telling her we would build our program around her," Berenato said. "Build it and they will come. She set the tone tonight and showed she is a big-time player. She picked up this team and put it on her back."

Walker was 8-of-10 from the floor, 4-of-4 from the foul line and had 11 of her 15 rebounds on the defensive end.

"I had to play my game, and I think I did that," said Walker, who came into the game averaging 15.6 points and 9.4 rebounds. "I had a big challenge. I knew I had to play defense and contribute on offense, and I think I stepped up to the challenge."

Pitt, down to eight healthy players because of injuries, began pulling away midway through the second half as Walker took over inside against the less-physical Dukes. With Pitt leading 44-42, Walker scored from in close and on a putback and Zellous made 4-of-6 free throws to put the Panthers up 52-44.

"Forget the rebounds and points, it was just her presence," Berenato said of Walker. "She was so strong, she was occupying two or three players, and she can score with two players on her."

After Tamera Young's 3-pointer cut it to 52-47, Pitt backup point guard Karlyle Lim stole the ball at midcourt and found Danielle Taylor open for a layup, and Taylor added a free throw to complete a three-point play and make it 55-47.

Young scored 16 points and Shirley McCall helped out with 12 points for the Dukes, an inside-dominated team like Pitt that was only 2-of-10 from 3-point range. Pitt was 2-of-6.

"We didn't shoot well, and when you don't put the ball in the basket you don't give yourself a chance to win," said Dukes coach Kenny Brooks, whose team shot 33.8 percent (23-of-68)

Pitt, 11-2 at home this season, led by as many as seven points in the first half at 16-9 but had trouble with an opponent that wasn't overwhelmed by its surroundings or by playing in the tournament.

Maybe it was because the James Madison student section was louder and more organized than Pitt's, or that a Petersen Events Center that always sells out for Panthers men's games wasn't half filled for the late-night start -- lessening the home-court advantage. Or perhaps the Pitt students were still getting over the men's 84-79 victory Saturday over Virginia Commonwealth in a second-round NCAA game.

"But I'm hoping we fill this place Tuesday night," Berenato said.

March 18, 2007

(5) Tennessee 77, (4) Virginia 74

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Go ahead, Tennessee fans. Break out the orange paint and slather up.

It sure seems to work for the head coach.

JaJuan Smith led a second-half comeback, Chris Lofton made one free throw after another in the final seconds and the Volunteers held off Virginia 77-74 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Fifth-seeded Tennessee (24-10) reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2000 under second-year coach Bruce Pearl, who painted himself orange before a Lady Vols' game last month to show some spirit.

Now, his team is showing some staying power.

"When you reach the Sweet 16 at the University of Tennessee with the way we've had to rebuild, you've made a special place in history for yourself," point guard Dane Bradshaw said.

A certain shade of history, no less.

Pearl took off his shirt and painted his torso orange to support the Lady Vols at one of their January games. The sight of his brightly colored belly was shown repeatedly on basketball highlight shows, bringing him some grief.

On Sunday, Pearl wore a conservative white shirt and did some of his most creative coaching, bringing down a Virginia team that couldn't get one more basket out of its fabulous guard tandem.

Point guard Sean Singletary missed an open 3-pointer with 1 second left, then slumped and rested his forehead on the court in dismay as Virginia (21-11) watched its top two scorers come up empty at the end.

Coach Dave Leitao, who has led the Cavaliers through a similar two-year revival, immediately went to console the junior.

"We kind of got our heart broken," Leitao said. "I understood at that moment in time because he's so hard on himself that he would immediately take the blame, and that's the last thing I wanted him to do."

Tennessee will play No. 1 Ohio State in the South Regional on Thursday in San Antonio. The high-scoring Volunteers lost at Ohio State 68-66 in January, when 7-foot center Greg Oden was just finding his form.

"Ohio State has changed a lot," said Pearl, who has taken Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee to the round of 16 in the last three years. "There was some uncertainty for them at that time. Greg was just starting to come on. My guess is they've gotten a lot better than we have."

The Buckeyes will face a team determined to press and shoot the 3 -- the Volunteers set school records for steals and 3-pointers this season. They put their mark on the tournament in their opening game, matching the school and NCAA first-round scoring records by piling up 121 points against overwhelmed Long Beach State.

In the end Sunday, the Volunteers advanced by having their best player make the easiest shot of all.

Lofton, the Southeastern Conference's player of the year, hit all six of his free throws in the last 27.7 seconds, keeping Tennessee ahead. Lofton finished with 20 points.

"I started forcing shots," said Lofton, who was an uncharacteristic 4-of-16 from the field but 9-of-10 on free throws. "Coach kept telling me to be patient. Luckily, I got to the foul line and came through."

It was a numbing finish for Virginia, which got another big game from its guard tandem of J.R. Reynolds (26 points) and Singletary (19 points). It wasn't enough to get the Cavaliers into the round of 16 for the first time since 1995.

Instead, Tennessee got the better of one of the tournament's most colorful matchups.

Reynolds donned bright orange shoes for the Cavaliers' first-round game against Albany, and immediately broke out of his shooting slump by making his first seven shots and scoring 28 points overall.

Not surprisingly, Reynolds' orange shoes were back for the second-round game against a coach known for his orange chest.

Reynolds had another big first half, scoring 22 points, but twisted his right ankle on a late drive to the basket. The sore ankle knocked him out of rhythm in the second half, when he made only two of his six shots.

"I didn't have the same lift or push off my right ankle," Reynolds said.

Appropriately, it all came down to the guards.

In the opening minute, Reynolds and Lofton turned it into a game of H-O-R-S-E. Reynolds hit a 3 from the top of the key on Virginia's first possession, and Lofton responded with a longer 3 a minute later.

The challenge was on, and Reynolds was on his game. He was at his best during an 18-3 spurt that gave Virginia a 36-25 lead, scoring 12 of the points on assorted shots.

Then, it was Tennessee's turn.

Smith had a three-point play and a steal-and-layup during a 15-2 spurt early in the second half that put Tennessee ahead to stay 54-44. Smith finished with 16 points.

At that point, Singletary brought Virginia back. He got a rebound while falling and, while on his chest, passed to Adrian Joseph for a basket that cut it to 61-59.

Smith ended the comeback by hitting a 3-pointer, then taking a charge from Singletary. Lofton, an 80.5 percent free-throw shooter, then finished it off from the line.
(3) Pittsburgh 84, (11) VCU 79, OT

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Levance Fields wasn't about to let two missed free throws ruin Pittsburgh's season.

Fields atoned for his misses at the end of regulation, hitting a 3-pointer in overtime, and Pitt recovered after blowing a 19-point lead to beat upstart Virginia Commonwealth 84-79 Saturday in the second round of the West Regional.

"After the two free throws, my teammates and coaches came to me and told me to put it behind me," said Fields, who could have given Pitt a lead with 2.1 seconds left. "We had five more minutes to get the job done, and everybody believed in me, so my confidence was still up.

"I didn't want to let my team down, so when I took that shot I was very confident," said Fields, who hit the clutch shot while falling away from the basket to give Pitt a 75-71 lead with 3:09 left. "When it went through the basket, it was a feeling of relief."

Ronald Ramon scored five points in the extra session for third-seeded Pitt (29-7), which has never won more than two games in an NCAA tournament. Pitt meets UCLA and former Panthers coach Ben Howland in San Jose, Calif., next week.

The Panthers will make their fourth appearance in school history in the round of 16, but getting there wasn't easy despite Pitt's dominating first half, which produced a 15-point lead at the break.

Eric Maynor, who hit the game-winning shot to beat Duke in the first round, led a comeback from a 51-32 deficit over the final 12 minutes of regulation.

Jesse Pellot-Rosa had 20 points, all after halftime, and B.A. Walker also had 20 for the 11th-seeded Rams (28-7). Maynor finished with 14 points, eight assists and three steals.

Sam Young finished with 15 points to lead Pitt and Aaron Gray had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists despite suffering food poisoning overnight and getting only an hour of sleep. Mike Cook and Young each made a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the triumph.

Pitt dominated the first half behind Gray, and even he picked up his third foul early in the second half and had to sit for five minutes, the Rams were unable to mount a charge. When Gray fed Keith Benjamin for an easy basket with 12:11 left, Pitt was up 51-32.

Then Pellot-Rosa found his range and the Rams began to surge behind their stifling press, which helped force 11 second-half turnovers that led to 19 points.

With chants of "VCU! VCU! reverberating through the Rams cheering section, they staged a furious rally as Maynor waved his arms in earnest, urging the fans to keep up the noise.

"You're going to go through adversity in a basketball game," Maynor said. "Going into halftime, we were down 15 and the first thing he (coach Anthony Grant) came in and said was, 'We've got another half, another 20 minutes.' The only way we was going to stop fighting was if the time ran out. This team, we've just got a lot of heart, a will to win. We just fell short."

Pellot-Rosa scored nine points, Maynor scored on a driving layup, and Walker hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second tying the game 67-all with 1:42 left.

Pellot-Rosa's rebound off his own miss gave VCU its only lead of the game, 69-67, with 52 seconds left. But Young tied it with a fast-break layup eight seconds later before Fields missed from the line twice with 2.1 seconds left to force OT.

"We started making a lot more shots, and we started being more aggressive on the offensive and defensive end," said Walker, who missed the final two shots of the game for the Rams. "That allowed us to get back in the game, continue to fight. We just ran out of time."

First-year coach Grant said, "I'm disappointed for my players because they believed that they could win the game. They believe in each other."

And why not.

In the final two minutes of the Colonial Athletic Association championship game, Maynor made two huge steals and scored nine points to rally the Rams from five points down to a 65-59 victory over last year's NCAA tournament darling George Mason.

And against Duke, he signaled he didn't want Grant to call a time out in the closing seconds, took an inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor before launching the winning jumper in the lane with 1.8 seconds left.

"More than losing," Grant said, "they're disappointed that this team doesn't get to play together (anymore)."

March 16, 2007

This year's George Mason? VCU ousts Duke

BUFFALO, N.Y. - First George Mason, now Duke. Virginia Commonwealth sophomore guard Eric Maynor sure has a flair for dramatics in big games. Maynor hit a 15-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left in the Rams' 79-77 upset victory over the Blue Devils on Thursday night in the first round of the
NCAA tournament.

"It felt like it was good," said Maynor, who scored six of his 22 points in the final 1:24. "And for it to go in, I said to myself, `Man, I just hit the game-winner on Duke University.'"

The basket gave VCU, seeded 11th in the West Regional, its first tournament victory since the Rams beat Marshall in 1985.

It's significance is even larger considering the Rams (28-6) handed the Mike Krzyzewski-coached Blue Devils (22-11) their first first-round loss since 1996. The loss also ended the sixth-seeded Blue Devils' string of Sweet 16 appearances at nine. It was the longest active streak and second-longest behind North Carolina's 13-year run.

"The fact that we've gone every year since 1996 is a story in itself," Krzyzewski said. "If you're in this tournament long enough, you're going to go down."

Maynor's performance was reminiscent of his previous game when he helped the Rams win the Colonial Athletic Association championship.

That's when he scored nine of his 20 points in the final 2 minutes in a 65-59 win over George Mason, the NCAA tournament's surprise team last year.

"I love him," teammate Jesse Pellot-Rosa said. "Just because he's a sophomore doesn't make him inexperienced. When crunch time comes, it just so happens he gets the ball first and makes great decisions."

Pellot-Rosa and Jamal Shuler scored 14 each for the Rams, while Michael Anderson had 10 points and seven rebounds.

VCU will face either third-seeded Pittsburgh or Wright State on Saturday.

The Rams, who never led by more than two points, overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and also trailed by seven with 8 minutes left in the game.

Pellot-Rosa's 16-foot jumper gave VCU a 72-71 lead with 2:03 remaining. The Blue Devils tied it three times, the last time at 77 when DeMarcus Nelson went coast-to-coast to hit a layup with 10.3 seconds left.

Maynor took the ensuing inbound pass and carried the ball across center. Driving to the paint, he pulled up and hit a perfect jumper from just above the foul line and over Duke's Jon Scheyer.

"I think I gave him a little too much space on that last one," Scheyer said. "I can't really pinpoint exactly what happened. It just got away from us."

The Blue Devils' chance to pull off a last-second victory — and with Christian Laettner watching from the stands — failed when Greg Paulus' wild attempt from midcourt hit wide of the basket and off the backboard.

Laettner, a Buffalo-area native, was responsible for one of the most exciting moments in NCAA tournament history in 1992. That's when he hit a last-second turnaround jumper sealing a 104-103 win over Kentucky that helped send the Blue Devils to their second straight national championship.

Paulus scored a career-high 25 points, and Josh McRoberts added a career-high 22 points and had 12 rebounds.

Duke was hurt by poor free-throw shooting.

Nelson missed two of four attempts in the final 3 minutes, while Paulus and Nelson were 1-of-2 down the stretch.

"They played their hearts out tonight," Krzyzewski said, crediting his players. "They just need to learn from this experience. We're proud of them."

The Blue Devils season ended with a four-game losing streak. Their 11 losses are the most since they finished 18-13 in 1995-96.

It was a rough game that featured Paulus and Maynor exchanging shoves. VCU's Wil Fameni missed 6 minutes with a bloody nose after he collided with a teammate.

Scheyer missed a couple of minutes after he was cut across the left eye when Maynor came down on him after making a 6-foot jumper. And Duke's Gerald Henderson also was limited after being cut on his shooting hand in the second half.

Rams' first-year coach Anthony Grant played down comparisons between his team and George Mason's run last year, when the Patriots reached the
Final Four.

"We're trying to be VCU," said Grant, an assistant on Florida's national championship team last season. "What Mason did last year was great and special. But right now, we're very happy being VCU."

(3) Pittsburgh 79, (14) Wright St. 58

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- No first-round exit this time for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers, ousted in the first round seven times in 18 previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, used their long-range marksmanship instead of their considerable brawn, hitting 10 of 21 3-pointers, and beat Wright State 79-58 on Thursday night.

Ronald Ramon hit four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Sam Young had 13 to lead the Panthers, who never trailed. Pittsburgh (28-7), the third seed in the West Regional, will meet 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (28-6) in the second round on Saturday. VCU upset Duke 79-77 just moments before the Panthers and Raiders took the floor at HSBC Arena.

Pittsburgh built 13-point leads three times in the first half against Wright State (23-10), hitting seven of 12 3-pointers and forging a 43-30 at the break. And when the Panthers began the second half with an 11-3 spurt, the Raiders couldn't recover.

Seven-foot center Aaron Gray, coming off a 1-of-13 performance for three points against Georgetown in the Big East title game, had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Levon Kendall had 10 points, and Antonio Graves eight for Pitt.

Wright State's DaShaun Wood, the Horizon League player of the year who entered the game averaging just under 20 points per game, finished with 13 points, six assists and four steals. Freshman Vaughn Duggins had 12 points and Scottie Wilson added 11.

Pittsburgh beat both Marquette and Louisville in last week's Big East tournament before suffering a humbling 65-42 loss to Georgetown in the title game. It was Pitt's lowest point total of the season and its most lopsided loss in seven years.

The Panthers recovered nicely against 14th-seeded Wright State, which was fresh from a 60-55 victory over Butler in the Horizon League championship game. The Raiders had won 11 of their previous 12 games, including two over Butler, the fifth seed in the Midwest.

The Raiders' only previous trip to the NCAA tournament in their 20 years in Division I came in 1993, when they were pounded 97-54 by Indiana in the first round after capturing the Mid-Continent Conference tournament title. And they started tentatively against Pitt, seemingly overwhelmed by the moment, missed their first four shots, committed a turnover and fell way behind.

The Panthers stormed to a 13-0 lead as Kendall, Mike Cook and Graves each hit wide-open 3-pointers in the first 94 seconds.

But with their band playing loudly and more than 400 fans cheering them on, the Raiders finally got untracked, and it was a freshman who provided the spark. After missing two straight shots, Todd Brown hit a reverse layup off a missed 3 by Wood, then hit two mid-range jumpers.

And after Keith Benjamin followed his own miss to give Pitt a 21-10 lead at 12:03, Wright State reeled off a 12-1 run to tie it. Wilson started the spurt with a long 3 from left wing, William Graham hit a curling hook off the glass, and Wood finished it with a 3 from right wing to make it 22-all at 8:32.

Pitt finally stopped the slide after Graham stole the ball and set up Duggins for a wide-open layup.

That tied the game again, 25-all, and the Panthers again began striking consistently from long range to take control.

Young, who led Pitt with 12 points in the half, swished a 3 from right wing, Ramon followed with another 3 from left wing, and Graves rattled in a 3 from the right corner to put Pitt ahead 35-27.

Young's fast-break layup with 1:51 remaining in the period completed a 15-2 spurt and Ramon followed with a 3 from the top of the key to give Pitt its 13-point halftime edge.

Gray's three-point play gave Pitt its biggest lead, 68-45, with 8 minutes left.

(1) West Virginia 90, (4) Massachusetts 77

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Frank Young showed why he has West Virginia's 3-point shooting record.

Young hit six 3s and scored a career-high 31 points in the Mountaineers' 90-77 win over Massachusetts in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament on Thursday night.

"He just needs one," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "One gets him going. He is a home-run hitter for us."

Three of Young's 3s came in a 6-minute span at the end of the first half as West Virginia built a 37-23 edge by the break. His sixth 3-pointer, which tied Chris Leonards 1992 record of 101 in a season, sealed the victory at 85-73 with 2 minutes left after UMass rallied from a 19-point deficit to pull within 74-70.

"I had a good feeling as soon as I hit my first shot," said Young, who also set a school record for points in the NIT. "I was focused and I kept coming off screens and looked for my shot. During the rally, I told my teammates to calm down. They did and I popped open for a late 3."

That ended a late charge by UMass, which was down by 19 at 46-27 with 17 minutes left. The Minutemen pulled to 56-52 before West Virginia hit six consecutive free throws to rebuild its lead.

UMass closed to 74-70 before Young scored six of WVU's next nine points to push the lead back to double digits.

West Virginia (24-9), the top seed in the East Region, will face the winner of the N.C. State-Marist game in the quarterfinals. The Mountaineers are 15-1 at home this season.

Darris Nichols added 14 points, Da'Sean Butler had 10 and Alex Ruoff had eight points and seven assists for the Mountaineers.

James Life led fourth-seeded UMass (24-9) with 20 points. Gary Forbes added 15 points and Stephane Lasme scored 14. Lasme, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, also had 14 rebounds for his 14th double-double this season and 22nd of his career.

"They just stayed calm and collected," Life said. "They hit a lot of big shots when they needed them. They have very big 3-point shooters, and they used them."

The Mountaineers, who advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals each of the past two seasons, have won 24 games for just the third time in the last 18 years.

"Were not looking for or making any excuses," UMass coach Travis Ford said. "We got beat by a really good team. When they made 3s, there are not too many teams that can beat them. They have the right players for this system."

The Minutemen, who led the Atlantic 10 in rebounding, managed just a 35-29 edge on the boards against the Big East's second-worst rebounding team. It was the first meeting between the former A-10 rivals since 1995, when then-No. 1 UMass beat West Virginia in overtime, before the Mountaineers joined the Big East.

The fast-paced game slowed considerably in the second half. The teams were whistled for a combined 35 fouls. The Mountaineers, who made their first 12 free throws, were in the double-bonus with almost 10 minutes left. They finished 16-for-21 on free throws.

UMass, the worst free-throw shooting team in the Atlantic 10, was 10-for-17.

March 13, 2007

Energetic actress Betty Hutton dead at 86

LOS ANGELES - Actress Betty Hutton, the exuberant blonde who starred as sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the 1950 film musical "Annie Get Your Gun," has died at age 86, her former studio, Paramount Pictures, said on Tuesday.

Hutton died on Monday in the Palm Springs, California, area, but no information was immediately available on the cause of her death, said A.C. Lyles, a veteran executive and producer on the Paramount lot who knew her well.

Starting out as a big-band vocalist, Hutton earned the moniker "America's Number One Jitterbug" (after the popular dance craze) in the late 1930s, and later signed with Paramount to become one of the most popular box-office stars in the 1940s.

"She was like a bunch of Chinese firecrackers all going off at once," Lyles told Reuters. "She was loaded with energy and personality and talent."

Hutton appeared in a string of musical comedies, often paired with bumbling comic Eddie Bracken, and landed her first non-singing role in Preston Sturges' 1944 comedy "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek."

The following year, she starred in her first dramatic role as silent film actress and speakeasy owner Texas Guinan in "Incendiary Blonde," a title that stuck as one of Hutton's many nicknames.

And in 1952 she received top billing as a trapeze artist in Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic "The Greatest Show on Earth," co-starring with Charlton Heston and Dorothy Lamour.

But Hutton is perhaps best remembered for her star turn as Annie Oakley in the film version of Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun," a role she landed when the original star, Judy Garland, became ill.

The film featured her performances of such memorable songs as "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Hutton's movie career fizzled after she left Paramount, the story goes, in a dispute over the studio's refusal to let her choreographer husband, Charles O'Curran, direct her films.

After a successful vaudeville stint during the 1950s, Hutton slipped into obscurity and turned up, years later, working as a cook and housekeeper at a Rhode Island rectory in the mid-1970s.

But she returned to Broadway in the early 1980s for a brief appearance in the role of the tyrannical orphanage proprietor Miss Hannigan in the hit musical "Annie," based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip. She later became a teacher of film and television at the Salve Regina College in Rhode Island.

March 08, 2007

Chatman resigned over inappropriate conduct with one or more players

BATON ROUGE —LSU women’s basketball coach Pokey Chatman resigned Wednesday because the university found out about inappropriate conduct between Chatman and one or more players, according to university sources who are aware of the events or have been briefed on it by school officials.

The precise details of the burgeoning scandal that prompted Chatman’s resignation Wednesday on the eve of the No. 10-ranked Lady Tigers appearance next week on the sport’s grandest stage, the NCAA Tournament, remained murky. It is not clear if Chatman’s alleged transgressions were recent, ongoing or occurred in the past. The time frame of when the university was made aware of the allegations and how it coped with them are also unclear.

LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman declined to discuss the matter Thursday. He reiterated, however, that, “no formal investigation,” had been conducted by the university. Asked if some sort of informal investigation had transpired, Bertman said, “that might have happened.”

“The girl did what she did and LSU had no control over that,” Bertman said of the timing of Chatman's resignation.

No elaboration would be provided by the school, Bertman said. Since the story exploded Wednesday afternoon with Chatman’s announcement that she planned to resign April 30 to pursue other career opportunities, LSU officials have repeatedly told reporters that questions about the matter should be addressed to Chatman and that they were not coordinating responses with her.

While Chatman, a 37-year-old native of Ama who starred at Hahnville High School, will remain employed under her $400,000 a year contract until April 30, on Thursday she released a statement saying she would not coach the team in the NCAA Tournament.

On the second floor of the athletic administration building Thursday, Chatman’s expansive office that overlooks the Pete Maravich Assembly Center where she starred as a player and labored her entire adult career was empty. Staffers said they would relay messages to Chatman requesting an interview, but she had not responded Thursday afternoon.

“My resignation yesterday has prompted speculation and rumors that far exceeded my expectations and it is clear that my presence would be a great distraction during the NCAA Tournament,” Chatman said in a release posted on the athletic department’s Web site. “I believe it is in the best interests of the team that I step away from my coaching duties immediately. I want the players and staff to have the best chance to maximize the opportunities we’ve earned. I have every confidence in the young ladies and the remaining coaches that they will have success in the NCAA Tournament.”

Assistant coach Bob Starkey will assume head coaching duties as the team moves into the tournament, the school said. Practice was closed for the remainder of the week and players made off-limits to the media. Reporters will be allowed to watch the NCAA Tournament pairings with the team when they are revealed Monday, the school said, and some limited interview opportunities with them will be provided Tuesday and Wednesday.

The LSU program has emerged as one of the country’s best in recent years. That status was cemented under Chatman’s tenure, in which she won several 2005 national Coach of the Year awards and amassed an impressive 90-14 record after replacing her Hall of Fame mentor, Sue Gunter.

At the same time, Chatman earned a reputation as a charismatic and blunt-spoken coach who never shied from a question and handled the outside pressures of the high-profile job with aplomb. Those qualities also helped make her one of the more respected recruiters in the land, and it was her skills that were widely credited with bringing Seimone Augustus, the consensus Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006, and current junior and unanimous All-Southeastern Conference center Sylvia Fowles to Baton Rouge.
Pokey Chatman won't coach LSU in NCAA Tournament

BATON ROUGE — LSU women's basketball coach Pokey Chatman, who on Wednesday announced she would step down from her position after the season had concluded, has since decided not to lead the Tigers into next week's NCAA Tournament.

"My resignation yesterday has prompted speculation and rumors that far exceeded my expectations and it is clear that my presence would be a great distraction during the NCAA Tournament," said Chatman in a statement from the school. "I believe it is in the best interests of the team that I step away from my coaching duties immediately. I want the players and staff to have the best chance to maximize the opportunities we've earned. I have every confidence in the young ladies and the remaining coaches that they will have success in the NCAA Tournament."

LSU Athletic Director Skip Bertman said that assistant coach Bob Starkey will act as the head coach during the NCAA Tournament

On Wednesday, Chatman released a statment that said, "I have notified the university today that I will step down as head coach of the women's basketball program in order to allow me to pursue other career opportunities."

Michael Bonnette, a sports information director at the school, confirmed the resignation and said it was unexpected. "I was stunned," Bonnette said.

"We respect the decision that Pokey Chatman has made regarding her future career opportunities," Athletic Director Skip Bertman said in a news release. "On behalf of LSU, I thank her for her athletic accomplishments as a player and as a coach, and for the community service work she has performed for Baton Rouge and Louisiana."

The Lady Tigers, currently ranked 10th in the nation, are 26-7 this season after losing to Vanderbilt on Sunday night in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.

Chatman is 90-14 as LSU's head coach. Before that, she was 15-5 as acting head coach during the latter stages of the 2003-04 season, when longtime coach Sue Gunter left the team because of lung cancer. That included a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans, where the Lady Tigers fell in the semifinals to Tennessee.

Her decision to leave came as a surprise in light of her long ties to LSU and her never before indicating publicly that she was dissatisfied with her job.

Chatman, a Louisiana native, has been at LSU as both a player and coach for nearly 18 years.

Playing guard, she was one of LSU's career assist and steals leaders. After her playing career ended in 1991, she spent one season as a student assistant coach and then 12 seasons as associate coach under Gunter.

LSU won SEC regular-season titles in her first two seasons as a head coach and made it to the Final Four last season.

In 2005, Chatman received a four-year contract extension that pays her close to $400,000 a year plus postseason bonuses ranging from $15,000 for making the NCAA tournament to $70,000 for winning a national title. The highest-paid coaches in women's college basketball, Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Geno Auriemma of Connecticut, both earn more than $1 million per year.

Kim Mulkey, who coached Baylor to the 2005 national championship, is a Louisiana native who played and served as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech. After Baylor won its Big 12 Conference quarterfinal game in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night against Kansas, Mulkey didn't want to talk about the possibility of coaching at LSU.

"I just don't even think making a comment about any of the job openings is appropriate," Mulkey said. "Baylor treats me great. We are a Top 25 team. I get paid great at Baylor. It's nothing more than another job that is open, just like the Florida job, just like the Michigan job, just like the Arkansas job.

"You hear it (speculation). You hear it all the time. Anybody who is young and has built a program, it goes without saying that any job opening your name is somehow going to be attached to it. When job openings come up, there's speculation and things to write about. ... It's just part of it. It's part of the profession."

March 07, 2007

Pokey Chatman resigns as women's coach at LSU

BATON ROUGE — LSU women's basketball coach Pokey Chatman, who took over as head coach in 2004 and twice took the Lady Tigers to the Final Four, announced her resignation Wednesday.

"I have notified the university today that I will step down as head coach of the women's basketball program in order to allow me to pursue other career opportunities," Chatman said in a prepared statement.

She did not say what those opportunities are. She said she would stay with the team through its run in the upcoming NCAA tournament and will be under contract until April 30.

"To eliminate any further distraction from our preparation for and participation in the NCAA Tournament, I will have no further comment and answer no questions on this subject," she added.

Michael Bonnette, a sports information director at the school, confirmed the resignation and said it was unexpected. "I was stunned," Bonnette said.

"We respect the decision that Pokey Chatman has made regarding her future career opportunities," Athletic Director Skip Bertman said in a news release. "On behalf of LSU, I thank her for her athletic accomplishments as a player and as a coach, and for the community service work she has performed for Baton Rouge and Louisiana."
Lots of New Stuff @ Meredy's Place

I've been a busy, busy gal. :-) I have four new sites:

Barbara Stanwyck - The Queen

Gregory Peck - Hero

Henry Fonda - One-Take

Robert Mitchum - One Cool Cat

Hope you enjoy your visits. :-)

March 06, 2007

No. 19 Rutgers 55, No. 2 Connecticut 47

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut's perfection meant nothing to Rutgers with the Big East title on the line.

The Scarlet Knights, beaten twice during the regular season by Uconn, upset the Huskies 55-47 in the championship game of the Big East tournament Tuesday night. It was the first loss for the Huskies in conference play this season -- and the first Big East tournament title for Rutgers after four losses in the final game, including three to UConn.

Essence Carson scored 15 points for No. 19 Rutgers, which held second-ranked Connecticut to one basket over the final 7:56.

The Scarlet Knights (22-8) lost in the Big East final to the Huskies in 1998, 2000, and 2005. Rutgers also lost to Boston College in the 2004 championship game.

The Huskies (29-3) finished the regular season with a perfect conference record for the sixth time in school history, and they routed Rutgers 70-44 on Feb. 26.

Tuesday night was a much different story.

With Connecticut leading 45-42 on Charde Houston's layup with 7:56 left in the second half, Rutgers turned up its defense, going on a 11-0 run over the next 7:30 to take a 53-45 lead on Carson's free throws with 31.4 seconds left.

Connecticut finally ended its drought on a layup by Charde Houston with 18.9 seconds left, but it was too late.

The Huskies were trying for their third straight tournament championship. They have won 13 of the 25 Big East tournament titles.

Houston led Connecticut with 12 points.

Tina Charles, who was scoreless in the first half and only played 10 minutes because of foul trouble, was a force in the second half for UConn.

With Connecticut trailing 31-26, Charles scored eight points and had two assists during a 17-7 spurt that gave the Huskies a 43-38 lead.

But that was all Connecticut could muster offensively as the Huskies shot 34 percent from the field (20-for-58).

Connecticut is all-but assured a top-seed in the NCAA tournament that starts next weekend. The Huskies will play their first two games at the Hartford Civic Center.

Rutgers has played extremely well lately, winning 12 of its last 14 games. Both the losses came to Connecticut.

Matee Ajavon, who averaged 20.5 points in the first two games of the tournament, struggled from the field going 4-for-22 from the field. She finished with 11 points and was named tournament MVP.

Trailing by three with 3:26 left in the first half, Rutgers closed with a 6-0 run to take a 29-26 advantage into the break. Connecticut, trailing at the half for only the fourth time this season, was able to stay in the game by dominating the boards.

The Huskies held a 27-14 advantage on the glass in the first half that led to half their points.

Top-seeded Connecticut defeated South Florida and Louisville en route to the championship game.

Second-seeded Rutgers beat DePaul and Marquette to get to the finals.

March 03, 2007

(24) N.C. State 70, (1) Duke 65

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The perfect season is over for Duke.

Ashley Key hit the go-ahead jumper with 1:19 remaining and No. 24 North Carolina State gave top-ranked Duke its first loss, a stunning 70-65 defeat in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Saturday.

Key's jumper from the left wing made it 66-65. Duke worked the ball inside to center Alison Bales, whose short layup missed.

Sasha Reaves made two free throws with 18 seconds remaining to push the lead to three points, and Abby Waner's potential game-tying 3-pointer from the key failed to hit the rim.

Key then hit two free throws in the final seconds for the winning margin. She finished with 21 points for the Wolfpack (23-8), who continued their remarkable roll since Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow's return. Yow, who left the team for two months to fight cancer, has now led the team to 10 wins in 11 games since her return to the bench.

The Wolfpack will play in Sunday's final against the winner of Saturday's other semifinal matching No. 4 North Carolina and No. 6 Maryland.

Stephanie Glance, Yow's interim coach during her leave of absence, put her arm around the veteran coach after her team's second huge victory in recent weeks. The Wolfpack knocked off then-No. 2 North Carolina 72-65 on Senior Night when N.C. State renamed the Reynolds Coliseum court after Yow.

Now they've got a chance at even bigger things -- like the Wolfpack's fifth ACC tournament title and first since 1991.

Waner and Bales finished with 17 points apiece to lead Duke (30-1).

The Blue Devils were denied their first trip to the ACC title game since 2005, and the best start in school history was spoiled by a fired-up N.C. State team.

Gillian Goring and Khadijah Whittington had 12 points apiece, and Marquetta Dickens added 10 points for the Wolfpack, who earned their first victory over a No. 1 team since Jan. 12, 1978, when they beat Wayland Baptist 98-86.

They did it by frustrating the Blue Devils' two all-conference stars. Bales and point guard Lindsey Harding were a combined 7-of-26 shooting -- with Harding, the league's player of the year, finishing 3-of-13.

Early on, Duke seemed on its way to an easy win. The Blue Devils started with a 14-2 run and made 10 of their first 13 shots. But they suddenly went cold at the eight-minute mark, missing their final 11 shots of the half.

Meanwhile, N.C. State used an 11-1 run to make it a one-point game late in the first half. Shayla Fields' jumper in the opening minute of the second half gave N.C. State its first lead, 35-34.