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.

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