March 27, 2008

‘Night Music’’s Polly Bergen is Back in Baltimore

Sitting down last week with the legendary Polly Bergen ranks right up there with some of the best theatre experiences of my life. I'll admit I was very nervous, and even managed to spill a bottle of water all over the place! She didn't miss a beat, sopping up the water and continuing her story while I bumbled around like a fool. But that incident just speaks to the graciousness of a terrific lady – professional, but very human. The truth is, we hadn't been talking more than a minute and she immediately put me at ease. Spilled water notwithstanding, the interview flew by.

James Howard: Well, here we are the day after opening night! I appreciate your taking the time for this interview.

Polly Bergen: No problem. (She smiles.) It has been pretty exhausting. Twelve hour days leading up to last night! But it was so exciting, wasn't it? I had the best time!

James: It certainly was exciting. So, tell me how did you find your way to your CENTERSTAGE debut and Baltimore?

Polly: (Director) Mark Lamos and I live about 20 minutes apart up in Connecticut, and we met up at a dinner party being given by A.R. Gurney – there's a really small social circle in Connecticut. Anyway, we got closer, seeing each other at various parties and things, and this past Christmas he said, 'Polly, I'm doing A Little Night Music in Baltimore. I think we'd have a lot of fun – it's really just 1 song and a few great scenes!' Well, I am basically retired, from the stage at least, but as a favor… so I said, 'Sure. When it gets closer, if I'm not booked with something, I'll do it.' Next thing I know, he calls, saying my manager says I'm free, and we start soon! (Laughing) I really love Mark, so here I am!

James: So what do you think of Baltimore?

Polly: Baltimore is one of the most beautiful towns, really. And trust me, I don't say that about every place… There is just something so quaint, old and beautiful about this place. I'm so glad to be back. When I was here shooting Cry Baby, I spent three months here. But the hours were 5 PM to 5 AM, so I only saw it at night, but even that was wonderful. I just love it here! Now that we've opened, and things are settling in, I can't wait to get out and see everything in daylight!

James: Tell me about Madame Armfeldt. How does she fit into the story of A Little Night Music? What does she represent?

Polly: Hmm. Her purpose is to explain the reason for the story and why it is happening, all from her wisdom and knowledge. She was a famous courtesan who never went to bed without getting something – a chateau, jewelry – you must get assets! (She smiles.) She is also trying to teach her daughter (Desiree) not to throw her life away and screw just for romance. She is also trying to teach her granddaughter not to be a replica of Desiree. I think she is also the epitome of Sweden – there is no night; she's dying, but won't sleep – no one knows when to during 24 hours of daylight! I think she is a funny, caustic and sad woman. From what I gathered during rehearsals (and from some friends who are real Sondheim fanatics) is that no one else has really played that before. I find that she chronicles her life with joy, but she fears that she threw out the one love of her life because he only gave her a wooden ring. It was foolish, really, because that ring was a valuable heirloom. Apparently no one else has really played her with a touch of sympathy. I think it makes her more interesting that she is unsure.

James: You were Tony nominated for Follies. Congratulations! Why do you think that production was so roughly reviewed.

Polly: Well, I always said, 'a blind dog with three legs could get a standing ovation for singing 'I'm Still Here'!' But honestly, I think that was the first production of that show that actors were cast for acting first, singing second. The director felt that that the acting was more important, so we really acted the songs. Singing was about a continuation of the scene. I thought they were great – none of us were really singers (at least not anymore) – Blythe (Danner), Judy (Ivey), Treat (Williams), none of us. And as you know Sondheim is TOUGH. We all struggled, and you know what? We got better and better and better! God did we work hard. And what a cast, right? You know that was Kelli O'Hara's first time originating a role on Broadway, too. Hmmm. I guess there are just certain expectations for certain shows, especially Sondheim.

James: I have to tell you, I saw the revival of Cabaret eight times, and you were my favorite Fraulein Schnieder. I thought it was so amazing that you got exit applause after your big act two scene.

Polly: You really saw me in it? You are one of like 15 people I know who saw me in that! I LOVED it so much. I wanted it so bad before it opened. I wanted to be seen and they simply would not even see me! Then I did Follies for them (Roundabout) and the next thing you know, they are asking me to do it! I absolutely loved it! I got to work with Raul Esparza, who I just adore. He is so talented, I love everything he does, don't you!? (She laughs.) And I also got to work with my dear friend, John Stamos. You know, I thought he was just the best. I mean really. A lot of theatre people dismiss TV actors, but I say give them a chance to prove themselves, you know? There are many of them who want to do their best work. Johnny was one of them. We had a ball. By that point in the run, we rehearsed with like the 4th Assistant Director or something, so we gave each other notes, too. To start with, he was pretty nervous. [The Emcee] was a rough character, and he struggled. I told him, "Don't worry about whether the audience likes you! Should they like the Emcee?" And it clicked! Boy, was he good. (She laughs.) He told me one day, "Polly, could you bring down your German accent a little? I don't understand a word you are saying!" I did, but it was hard! I really worked at that accent!

James: I remember my entire family sitting in front of the TV glued to The Winds of War. What was that experience like? And how about working with Robert Mitchum?

Polly: Ahh… maybe my favorite role! You know that was 12 hours of television we shot for the first part? Herman Wouk HATED Rhoda (Ms. Bergen's Emmy-nominated role in both Winds of War and War and Remembrance). And I thought, 'No! She's really just a victim of her time. I mean, she follows her husband making a home from scratch everywhere they went. I brought a sympathy to the role, I think. But Mitchum and I – we go back to the original film Cape Fear. We've been friends for years, and his wife and I work for the same charity. Anyway, casting was 100% against my playing the role. I auditioned ten or more times. And they couldn't cast anyone. Everyone turned it down. Later, I was told Mitchum insisted I do it. So there I was at home, cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for thirty-four people! And I get the call. Three days before shooting was to begin on a $50 million dollar movie and I cast. That was a Thursday, we started filming on Monday! Boy, did I tease them when I got nominated for an Emmy for a part they didn't want me for! You know, come to think of it, I think I watched the first episode of the show from a hotel here in Baltimore! I'm pretty sure it was here. That day the East Coast had the worst snowstorm in a century and I couldn't get home to Connecticut. How funny!

James: And now you are Lynette's mother on Desperate Housewives! What is it like on that set? Are you going back now that the writer's strike is over?

Polly: I love to play with Felicity Huffman. She is such a powerhouse! I can honestly say I have never worked with a nicer group. I don't care what the tabloids say – I never saw anything but respect and care from anyone. What a great place to work! I had known Nicolette (Sheridan) for some time, and you know, she is just so warm and FUNNY! Eva (Longoria-Parker) is absolutely delicious! I had invited some friends – who told me the ENTIRE Desperate Housewives story before I got to the set – to the set, and she posed for pictures and was so truly gracious. And Marcia Cross is a simply heavenly woman. I regret that I didn't get to really work with Teri (Hatcher) because I respect her work so much. And of course, they just brought in Dana Delaney, another dear friend, to stir things up! But I worked mostly with Felicity, who is wonderful. She is fun and has a great time, but she (and all of them) are very serious about the work. Even working with the kids was great fun. One time, the littlest girl had to come in go to Felicity then get handed off to me. She would NOT come on! So Felicity noticed she loved the grapes on the food service table. So Felicity grabbed a handful and lured her into the scene. What a pro! And hey, I got to do scenes with Richard Chamberlain, who played my gay husband! You can't beat that. As far as going back, I can't see any reason why they would need to, they've got so much else going on. But it's a soap and they didn't kill me off, so who knows? Would I go back if they asked? In a heartbeat! (Laughing) Tell you readers to write the show – "BRING BACK POLLY!"

James: So what advice do you have for our readers who would love to have a career as long and successful as yours?

Polly: Well, this is such a cliché, but don't become a performer unless you want it more than anything else in your life. Other than that, you need to know that luck plus talent plus making your own luck plus being driven is what really gets you there. And if you are fortunate enough to have them listen to the great teachers and coaches. Wait! About preconceived notions… you need to show the people you are auditioning for that even though you don't fit their idea for a role, you might still work out. Look at what happened with me playing Rhoda! It's funny, but the things I really WANTED, I got, even thought it was so hard to get. It was always the stuff I was 50/50 on or didn't care either way that I never got. Now of course, the minute I "retired" I got more work than ever.

James: Ok. Last question –a two parter. What is your favorite role? And what role do you still want to play?

Polly: Generally, I say that the last role I played was my favorite. But really, it is always the parts that are furthest from me that people think I can't play – like Rhoda or my part in Cabaret. Hmmm I guess any part that Angela Lansbury or Marian Seldes would be up for would be parts I'd still like!

James: (Laughing) Maybe a one-woman Deuce?

Polly: Exactly! No, seriously, I've always wanted to play Big Mama. I've never done Tennessee Williams.

James: Thank you so much Ms. Bergen! Enjoy Baltimore.

March 26, 2008

Actor Richard Widmark dies at 93

HARTFORD, Conn. - Richard Widmark, who made a sensational film debut as the giggling killer in "Kiss of Death" and became a Hollywood leading man in "Broken Lance," "Two Rode Together" and 40 other films, has died after a long illness. He was 93.

Widmark's wife, Susan Blanchard, says the actor died at his home in Roxbury on Monday. She would not provide details of his illness and said funeral arrangements are private.

"It was a big shock, but he was 93," Blanchard said.

After a career in radio drama and theater, Widmark moved to films as Tommy Udo, who delighted in pushing an old lady in a wheelchair to her death down a flight of stairs in the 1947 thriller "Kiss of Death." The performance won him an Academy Award nomination as supporting actor; it was his only mention for an Oscar.

"That damned laugh of mine!" he told a reporter in 1961. "For two years after that picture, you couldn't get me to smile. I played the part the way I did because the script struck me as funny and the part I played made me laugh. The guy was such a ridiculous beast."

A quiet, inordinately shy man, Widmark often portrayed killers, cops and Western gunslingers. But he said he hated guns.

"I know I've made kind of a half-assed career out of violence, but I abhor violence," he remarked in a 1976 Associated Press interview. "I am an ardent supporter of gun control. It seems incredible to me that we are the only civilized nation that does not put some effective control on guns."

Two years out of college, Widmark reached New York in 1938 during the heyday of radio. His mellow Midwest voice made him a favorite in soap operas, and he found himself racing from studio to studio.

Rejected by the Army because of a punctured eardrum, Widmark began appearing in theater productions in 1943. His first was a comedy hit on Broadway, "Kiss and Tell." He was appearing in the Chicago company of "Dream Girl" with June Havoc when 20th Century Fox signed him to a seven-year contract. He almost missed out on the "Kiss of Death" role.

"The director, Henry Hathaway, didn't want me," the actor recalled. "I have a high forehead; he thought I looked too intellectual." The director was overruled by studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck, and Hathaway "gave me kind of a bad time."

An immediate star, Widmark appeared in 20 Fox films from 1957 to 1964. Among them: "The Street With No Name," "Road House," "Yellow Sky," "Down to the Sea in Ships," "Slattery's Hurricane," "Panic in the Streets," "No Way Out," "The Halls of Montezuma," "The Frogmen," "Red Skies of Montana," "My Pal Gus" and the Samuel Fuller film noir "Pickup on South Street."

In 1952, he starred in "Don't Bother to Knock" with Marilyn Monroe. He told an interviewer in later years:

"She wanted to be this great star but acting just scared the hell out of her. That's why she was always late — couldn't get her on the set. She had trouble remembering lines. But none of it mattered. With a very few special people, something happens between the lens and the film that is pure magic. ... And she really had it."

After leaving Fox, Widmark's career continued to flourish. He starred (as Jim Bowie) with John Wayne in "The Alamo," with James Stewart in John Ford's "Two Rode Together," as the U.S. prosecutor in "Judgment at Nuremberg," and with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas in "The Way West." He also played the Dauphin in "St. Joan," and had roles in "How the West Was Won," "Death of a Gunfighter," "Murder on the Orient Express," "Midas Run" and "Coma."

"Madigan," a 1968 film with Widmark as a loner detective, was converted to television and lasted one season in 1972-73. It was Widmark's only TV series.

He also was in some TV films, including "Cold Sassy Tree" and "Once Upon a Texas Train."

Richard Widmark was born Dec. 26, 1914, in Sunrise, Minn., where his father ran a general store, then became a traveling salesman. The family moved around before settling in Princeton, Ill.

"Like most small-town boys, I had the urge to get to the big city and make a name for myself," he recalled in a 1954 interview. "I was a movie nut from the age of 3, but I don't recall having any interest in acting," he said.

But at Lake Forest College, he became a protege of the drama teacher and met his future wife, drama student Ora Jean Hazlewood.

In later years, Widmark appeared sparingly in films and TV. He explained to Parade magazine in 1987: "I've discovered in my dotage that I now find the whole moviemaking process irritating. I don't have the patience anymore. I've got a few more years to live, and I don't want to spend them sitting around a movie set for 12 hours to do two minutes of film."

When he wasn't working, he and his wife lived on a horse ranch in Hidden Valley, Calif., or on a farm in Connecticut. Their daughter Ann became the wife of baseball immortal Sandy Koufax.

March 22, 2008

West Virginia’s defense, rebounding overwhelm Duke 73-67

WASHINGTON — Back at his alma mater, back in the NCAAs, Bob Huggins looked and sounded just like the Bob Huggins everyone remembers.

He yelled. He groused. He drew an early technical foul. And he willed his No. 7-seeded West Virginia past second-seeded Duke.

Playing tough man-to-man defense, grabbing what seemed like every loose ball, West Virginia used Joe Alexander’s 22 points and 11 rebounds and all sorts of contributions from unlikely sources for a 73-67 victory over Duke on Saturday, getting to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 in Huggins’ first season.

“His passion, his lack of fear, is something we try to put out on the court,” said Alex Ruoff, whose 17 points included a 3 at the shot-clock buzzer that tied the game at 37 in the second half. “When you see that passion on the sideline, the last thing you want to do is let that man down.”

While the Mountaineers (26-10) will face No. 3-seed Xavier in Phoenix on Thursday, the Blue Devils (28-6) must deal with a second consecutive early exit.

Every year from 1997 through 2006, Duke was a participant in the round of 16. Every single year. It’s a stretch that featured three trips to the Final Four and the 2001 national championship. But now Krzyzewski’s team is on a two-year drought, having bowed out in the first round in 2007.

“No matter how well or how hard you’re playing, you’ve got to put the ball in the basket,” said Krzyzewski, whose team was held to 38 percent shooting and missed 15 consecutive 3-pointers in one stretch. “We didn’t do that today.”

Gerald Henderson scored 18 points for Duke. But DeMarcus Nelson had only six points on 2-for-11 shooting, a game after scoring two when the Blue Devils eked out a one-point victory over No. 15-seed Belmont in the first round.

This time, there was no escaping. Instead, Huggins could appreciate a quick personal comeback. This is, after all, a guy who was out of work two years ago.

He got fired at Cincinnati—a school he led to the 1992 Final Four—after a drunken driving arrest, then sat out a season before surfacing at Kansas State in 2007. He took that team to the NIT, losing in the second round.

Now he’s back home in West Virginia, at the school he played for, and back among basketball’s elite.

“People think I sit around and think about that stuff. I don’t,” Huggins said in the hallway outside his team’s locker room, his voice nearly a whisper between bites of popcorn. “I don’t think about the past. I mean, I try to learn from the past. But I don’t dwell on the past.”

And that is precisely the attitude he sought from West Virginia (26-10) after a first half in which is was outscored 34-29, went 0-for-6 on 3-pointers and missed—by Huggins’ count—five layups.

The Mountaineers gathered at the break to hear about their failings.

And there was certainly some of that in Huggins’ speech, delivered after his players heard a loud bang emanate from the coach’s office. Some speculated it was the sound of a tossed chair, given that, as Ruoff put it, “He does that sometimes.”

But Huggins actually offered a positive twist: “His message,” Alexander said, “was that we couldn’t play any worse and we were down by five.”

If Huggins does anything, it’s make his players believe, and West Virginia managed to force Duke into 15 consecutive misses from 3-point range and figured out a way to hold a 47-27 rebounding edge.

Huggins apparently got the best out of everyone.

Reserve guard Joe Mazzulla, all 6-foot-2 of him, had 11 rebounds to go along with 13 points and eight assists.

“The MVP of the game,” Krzyzewski said.

When Alexander made a layup off the glass while getting fouled and then completed the three-point play with 14:38 left in the game, he put West Virginia ahead 40-38, its first lead since 4-3.

Mazzulla’s drive down the lane made it 47-40 with under 12 minutes left, capping an 18-3 run. Duke called timeout, and Mazzulla screamed and pounded his chest, first with one fist, then the other.

Cam Thoroughman, a 6-foot-7 freshman who had 16 rebounds all season and postponed knee surgery to stay with the team in the tournament, grabbed two consecutive boards to keep one possession alive, then eventually made a layup for a 62-51 lead with 3 1/2 minutes left.

“We’re so small,” Huggins said, “but we’ve learned to compete.”

He forged that, perhaps, with his infamous three-hour practices, about twice as long as his predecessor John Beilein.

Alexander didn’t know much about what he was getting into when Huggins arrived.

“The biggest thing that surprised me is how calm he is, most of the time,” Alexander said. “He’s notorious for being a yeller. Oh, he’s a yeller. Big time. But most of the time, he’s calm. And first, he’s a teacher.”

March 16, 2008

Pittsburgh wins second Big East title with 74-65 victory over No. 9 Georgetown

NEW YORK — There were plenty of souvenirs for the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday night.

Levance Fields had a piece of the nets he and his teammates cut down after winning the Big East tournament championship game wrapped around his right ear like a BlueTooth phone.

DeJuan Blair was holding the championship trophy with a devilish grin that said nobody was taking it from him.

Ronald Ramon was wearing a smile that said a senior playing in his last Big East tournament game got what he wanted so badly: a chance to leave Madison Square Garden with a conference title.

The seventh-seeded Panthers won their fourth game in four days, a 74-65 victory over top-seeded and ninth-ranked Georgetown to win their second title in their eighth championship game appearance.

“We didn’t win this game two years in a row and we found a way to get over the hump,” Fields said. “We know what it’s like to be on the other end, to sit and listen to somebody else celebrate. Tonight, I got a piece of the net.”

Things looked a lot like the last several Big East tournament championship games for Pittsburgh. Except the result.

The Panthers (26-9) shed their runner-up tag with a performance just like those in all the other championship games: a blue-collar effort without a star player.

“We are one of those teams that does whatever it takes, we always have,” Fields said. “We take pride in our defense and none of the teams we played here got 70 points and this was the only team that shot over 40 percent. We outrebounded them by 12. But at the end of the day the biggest thing is we got the win.”

Roy Hibbert had 17 points for the Hoyas (27-5), who were trying to sweep the regular-season and tournament titles for a second straight season.

“They just played like they wanted to win,” Georgetown’s Jessie Sapp said of Pitt. “They made a lot of hustle plays and you wouldn’t have known they played four days. They just played hard.”

Pittsburgh joined Syracuse in 2006 as the only teams to win four games in this tournament.

The Panthers’ only title came in 2003 and that was under coach Ben Howland who left for UCLA after that season. Jamie Dixon was promoted to replace him and despite all those title-game appearances and a won-loss record among the best ever for his time as a head coach, the Panthers had never left Madison Square Garden under him with the trophy.

“National championship teams haven’t done what we’ve done over seven years as far as consistency and what we’ve done year after year,” Dixon said. “A national championship from 30 years ago, a Villanova national championship, that’s remembered forever. … That is our ultimate goal and we don’t have problems discussing that, but it doesn’t take away from what we’ve done.”

Ramon, who scored 17 points, and Sam Young, who had 16 points and was selected tournament MVP, led the Panthers’ balanced offense that thrived on its own missed shots, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds against the bigger Hoyas.

Blair had 10 points and 10 rebounds as Pittsburgh finished with a 41-29 rebound advantage a stat that allowed it to overcome 22-for-44 shooting from the free throw line.

“We had to outrebound them, we talked about it,” Dixon said. “For whatever reason I didn’t think we were playing as aggressively as we were maybe 10 games ago, but when we got all our guys back and were able to get back into it and do the things we do, we were more aggressive more physical, more the way we are, more like Pitt.”

A 3-pointer by Ramon with 3:45 to go and the shot clock running out made it 59-49.

Georgetown was able to get within 65-60 on a 3 by Jonathan Wallace with 1:20 to go, but Ramon went 5-for-6 from the line over the final 1:07 to clinch it.

“Levance did a great job of finding me for that 3 when they gambled,” Ramon said.

Pittsburgh, which has five players from the New York area, improved to 6-0 at Madison Square Garden this season and the Panthers are 23-8 in the building since the 2000-01 season. A lot of that success came in the Big East tournament.

In recent years Pittsburgh relied on Brandin Knight for solid play at the point, on this team it was Fields, who had 10 points, six assists and just one turnover in 36 minutes. Big men like Aaron Gray, Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft did all the grunt work up front in the past. On this team it was Young and Blair banging the boards even against the likes of the 7-foot-2 Hibbert.

It wasn’t anything pretty, but it never is for Pittsburgh. This season was off to a great start with an overtime against Duke at—where else?—Madison Square Garden. But senior forward Mike Cook went down with a season-ending knee injury late in that game. Fields broke his foot the next game and missed the next 12 games, including a 69-60 victory over Georgetown.

“There were some tears for Mike but even though he wasn’t on the court, he was with us,” Fields said. “We started 10-0 then Mike and I got hurt but we were resilient and the team stayed together without us.”

The Panthers used just seven players in the title game, handing the Hoyas their first loss in 15 games in this tournament as its No. 1 seed. Georgetown was looking to add to its record seven tournament titles, the last of which came last season in a blowout of Pittsburgh.

“They hurt us on the boards, it was evident right from the beginning,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I thought our guys fought, scrapped, but rebounding was key.

“It just happens, one of those days. … You have to give them all the credit in the world. That’s a team that’s gone through a lot of adversity this year with the injuries they’ve had. Obviously Jamie is a terrific coach and has done a terrific job. You have to give them a lot of credit for what they accomplished today.”

Blair scored all but one of the points in a 9-2 run that gave the Panthers a 55-42 lead with 6:25 to go. The points came just as you would expect: he made one free throw after being fouled grabbing an offensive rebound, he scored on a move down low and he had a three-point play after getting another offensive rebound.

Hibbert started to assert himself down low, scoring five points in a 7-1 run that got the Hoyas within 56-59 but Ramon hit his big 3-pointer with the shot clock running down.

Georgetown, which tied a Big East tournament record with 17 3-pointers in the quarterfinal win over West Virginia, was 8-for-24 from behind the arc on Saturday and committed 14 turnovers.

Young was joined on the all-tournament team by Fields, Hibbert, Sapp, Joe Alexander of West Virginia and Jerel McNeal of Marquette.

March 13, 2008

Young scores 21, sending Pittsburgh past No. 13 Louisville into semifinals

NEW YORK — Sam Young had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and hit a pair of free throws with less than a minute left in overtime to help Pittsburgh beat No. 13 Louisville 76-69 Thursday night and advance to the semifinals of the Big East tournament.

The seventh-seeded Panthers (24-9) outscored Louisville 12-2 to start the overtime, and their 74-64 lead with 30.9 seconds left was their biggest of the game.

Pittsburgh, which has knocked Louisville out of three straight conference tournaments, advanced to play either third-seeded Notre Dame or No. 6 seed Marquette on Friday night.

DeJuan Blair added 16 points and eight rebounds for Pittsburgh, which has been to the last two tournament finals and six of the past seven. The Panthers are now 4-0 at Madison Square Garden this year, and 21-8 dating to the 2001-02 season.

Earl Clark scored 19 for Louisville (24-8), and Derrick Caracter, Juan Palacios and David Padgett had 11 points each.

Young’s basket with 1:50 left in regulation gave Pittsburgh a 62-60 lead, and Clark’s putback with less than a minute to go knotted the game.

After a timeout, the Panthers held for the last shot—but may have held too long. Levance Fields made a move to the basket with just over 5 seconds left and got caught in the corner, where he heaved up a contested shot at the buzzer that clanked harmlessly off the rim.
Pittsburgh's Levance Fields reacts after being called for a foul in the first half against Louisville during a quarterfinal of the Big East Conference men's basketball tournament Thursday, March 13, 2008, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Pittsburgh's Levance Fields re…
AP - Mar 13, 8:06 pm EDT

Fields scored six of his 13 points in overtime, though, and Ronald Ramon also had 13 for Pittsburgh.

That the game came down to the final minutes should come as no surprise for these two teams. Pittsburgh beat Louisville by five in the first round of the 2006 tournament, and by six in last year’s semifinal, when the Cardinals were also a No. 2 seed.

Their only meeting earlier this season was a back-and-forth affair that ended after Padgett and Andre McGee each made a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to seal a 75-73 victory at Pittsburgh.

The two teams swapped the lead 10 times in the first half and were tied eight times, before a late burst gave Louisville a 33-30 at the break.

The Panthers used a 9-0 run midway through the second half to build a 51-43 lead, but Blair picked up his fourth foul a couple minutes later and Louisville closed in. Terrence Williams’ basket with 4:44 to go gave the Cardinals a 56-55 lead, and the two teams matched baskets through the end of regulation.

It was another maddening trip to the Garden for Louisville coach Rick Pitino. The Cardinals are just 1-3 in conference tournaments since joining the Big East, and Pitino fell to 3-8 in his career against the Panthers.
West Virginia beats No. 15 Connecticut

NEW YORK - Joe Alexander continued his scoring streak with a career-high 34 points and West Virginia beat No. 15 Connecticut 78-72 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-7) will play top-seeded and ninth-ranked Georgetown in the semifinals Friday night. It will be West Virginia's second appearance in the tournament's final four as it lost in the 2005 championship game.

The coach of that team was John Beilein. Bob Huggins has gotten the Mountaineers that far in his first season at his alma mater.

Alexander is averaging 29.8 points over his last five games, a streak that started with a then-career high 32 points in a 79-71 loss to Connecticut on March 1. The 6-foot-8 junior forward had 22 points in the Mountaineers' opening-round win over Providence.

A.J. Price had 22 points for the Huskies (24-8), who have lost their last four games in the Big East tournament, a streak that started with in the semifinals in 2005.

Alexander was 12-for-22 from the field and 10-for-12 from the free throw line as West Virginia led throughout the entire second half. The Mountaineers' biggest lead was 13 points, the last time at 61-48 with 9:18 left, and they held off a run that had the Huskies as close as 70-65 on a driving layup by Price with 2:02 to play.

West Virginia had come up with four offensive rebounds in the three possessions before and the one after that basket to take the wind out of the Huskies' comeback.

Da'Sean Butler made two free throws with 1:27 left to give West Virginia a 72-65 lead and Darris Nichols made one of two 11 seconds later to make it a six-point game. Alexander's breakaway dunk with 1:01 left got the lead back to 10 points. He added another dunk with 14 seconds left that gave him his career high and sent the West Virginia fans at Madison Square Garden into a big celebration.

Butler had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead West Virginia's impressive showing on the boards. The Mountaineers finished with a 42-26 advantage, including 14-5 on the offensive end.