- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh teams often have been known for great defense: the Steel Curtain, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente, Blitzburgh. It might be time to add Pitt's never-let-'em-score Panthers to the list.
Pitt held California without a point for 9 minutes during a decisive 16-0 run, and the Panthers moved into the NCAA South Region semifinals with a defense-driven 63-50 victory yesterday.
Julius Page scored seven of his 17 points during that spurt, which began with Cal leading 32-28 with 16:50 remaining and ended with Pitt up 44-32 with 7:08 left. The Golden Bears went more than 11 minutes without a basket and 15-plus minutes with only one basket.
"They didn't score for 11 minutes? In an NCAA second-round game?" Pitt coach Ben Howland said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Pitt's third-team All-American, Brandin Knight, was an all-over-the-floor force with 11 points and seven assists but wasn't really a factor offensively not that he needed to be with Pitt's defense so dominating, so controlling.
"We played poorly on offense and didn't shoot well, but we knew that if we kept up our defense, we'd give ourselves a chance to win," Knight said.
The NFL's Steelers had the Steel Curtain during the 1970s, and now Pitt has the Steal Curtain a suffocating, Knight-led defense that is the school's best in 50 years and one that held Cal to only six baskets in the final 16:40.
"It's a team that embodies a Pittsburgher: tough, hard-nosed, hardworking," Howland said. "Our guys love to play defense because our guys like to win. Defense equates to winning, and it's true in any sport."
By winning twice in Mellon Arena, a mile from its campus, third-seeded Pitt (29-5) moves into the regional semifinals for only the second time in school history. In 1974, the Panthers lost to sky-walking David Thompson's national champion N.C. State in the regional finals.
The Panthers will play 10th-seeded Kent State on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
"I don't think the teams that have played Kent State have respected them," Knight said, referring to Alabama and Oklahoma State. "But we've seen them, and we'll prepare for them like we do any other team. We'll try to contain them and do what we do best."
Pitt and Kent State played in but did not meet in an eight-team Thanksgiving tournament in Pittsburgh, with the Panthers losing to South Florida in the championship game.
Yesterday's victory wasn't the textbook way to win an NCAA game, for sure. Good college basketball teams aren't supposed to advance when they shoot 43 percent or make only 12 of 26 free throws or get so little offense from their star.
Of course, skilled teams like sixth-seeded Cal (23-9) which beat UCLA twice this season are supposed to make more than three of their first 20 shots in a half, too. The Bears, growing increasingly frustrated the longer they failed to score, were only 9-for-31 (29 percent) in the second half, 18-for-58 (31 percent) overall and 4-for-24 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range.
"It becomes a mental thing with teams," Page said. "If they can't score, they tend to let up on defense."
Cal's previous scoring low this season was a 56-27 victory over Eastern Washington on Nov. 16. Pitt allows an average of 61 points.
"We had more patience in the first half," Cal coach Ben Braun said. "In the second half, we hurried ourselves and missed some opportunities."
Only Shantay Legans (13 points) and Joe Shipp (11 points) scored in double figures for the Bears.
"They're not afraid to throw their bodies around," Braun said of Pitt, the only top 10 team the Bears played this season. "It seemed like every time we were going for a ball, they were more aggressive and physical."
Shipp was surprised that Pitt could stay so committed to defense for an entire game, saying, "Their defense was great, and their intensity was great. This was a tough game for us."
Chevy Troutman, a freshman making only his second career start, added 11 points for Pitt, and Ontario Lett outmuscled Cal's bigger frontline for 10 points. The Panthers, ninth in the final AP poll, won for the 11th time in 12 games and 14th time in 16 games.
Playing Cal for the first time in 51 years, Pitt made a surprise adjustment to the Bears' size advantage by benching 6-foot-10 center Toree Morris and opening with a lineup in which no starter was taller than 6-8.
That didn't keep Cal from opening an 8-5 lead, but Pitt answered with a 7-0 run to go up 12-8.


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