Men’s basketball: UConn beats Pitt 76-74 at the buzzer

By Alex Oltmanns

Three years ago, the Big East Tournament adopted a double-bye system to give the top four teams… Three years ago, the Big East Tournament adopted a double-bye system to give the top four teams an automatic bid to the quarterfinals and a supposed advantage.

But the No. 3 Panthers had an early exit in the last two tournaments, losing their first games each year.

And this season, as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, that losing stretch continued with a 76-74 loss to No. 19 Connecticut (24-9) at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

This time, the game came down to a buzzer beater, as Huskies guard Kemba Walker hit a last second shot over Pitt center Gary McGhee to give his team the win, their third in as many days.

“I wanted to take that shot. I called it out in the huddle, I knew McGhee was going to switch [to guard him] so I knew if I had him it was going to be time to go and that’s what it was,” Walker said in a post-game news conference. “I was able to break him down and get a clean look at the basket.”

The Panthers (27-5) exit this tournament with yet another first game loss, but for Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, the double-bye was not a factor this time around.

“I’ve never been in favor of sitting out two days but I don’t think it really affected them because they came out of the chute really good,” Calhoun said in the news conference. “But sometimes sitting two days you’re not in the flow of the tournament.”

The Panthers controlled the game early on, as they got out to a 35-23 lead in the first half behind Ashton Gibbs’ 6-for-7 shooting from the field as well as a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range.

But Connecticut went on a 17-4 run to nearly close out the first half, heading into halftime down just one at 41-40.

Calhoun cited the difference in his team being toughness that enabled them to get back into the game.

“In or about that point leading to the first half I thought we toughened up,” Calhoun said.

“It was one of those games where Pittsburgh says ‘We’re tough, tell me how tough you are, and if you’re tough enough you can beat us,’” Calhoun said. “Today we answered that challenge.”

The loss hurts the Panthers even more because Connecticut beat them at their own style of play — playing tougher, getting to loose balls and grabbing rebounds — all mantras of Pitt’s program in the past decade.

“We got beat at our own game, especially on the boards,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said in the news conference.

The Huskies outrebounded Pitt 32-25, while forcing 11 turnovers.

Yet, the Panthers remained in the lead for most of the game, in large part because of Gibbs’ shooting — he finished the game with 27 points and six 3-pointers. Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker finished the game with 17 points.

But the Huskies managed to tie the score and run down the clock on their last possession to let Walker take the game’s final shot.

“I think he’s the most important guy for a single team in college basketball,” Calhoun said.

Walker finished the game with 24 points while teammate Alex Oriakhi finished with 13 points and tied for a game-high with seven rebounds.

“Alex came alive,” Calhoun said.

Gibbs and the rest of his teammates will now wait to see where they will land in next week’s NCAA Tournament but know that they can use this loss as a motivation tool.

“We talked about winning all three crowns,” Gibbs said in the news conference. “That’s what we talked about all year, regular season, Big East and NCAA, we didn’t get this one but it’s extra motivation for an NCAA Tournament.”