Kirschman: Looking back at Pitt’s memorable Tournament wins

By Lauren Kirschman

Pitt will hope to break through to its first Final Four since the World War II era when the… Pitt will hope to break through to its first Final Four since the World War II era when the Panthers start their NCAA Tournament run on Thursday.

Despite the common belief that an appearance in Houston would be long overdue and that Pitt has generally underachieved in the Big Dance, the Panthers have provided fans with plenty of memorable Tournament wins in recent years.

So to put everyone on campus in a positive state of mind, we’re going to look back at some of the Panthers’ best performances over the past few years in the NCAA Tournament. And just for a while, we’re going to forget about Dwyane Wade and Marquette, the loss to Bradley and he-who-shall-not-be-named from the other side of the state.

Here we go:

Pitt 63, California 50 — 2002: Trailing 33-28 with 16:50 left in the game, the Panthers held the Golden Bears scoreless for 11 minutes in the second half. By the time Cal was able to break through the Pitt defense, the Panthers had taken a commanding 44-32 lead with 7:08 remaining in the game. A defensive force all year, Pitt’s dominance was never clearer than during the second-round victory. Pitt point guard Brandin Knight scored 11 points and dished out seven assists, and then-junior Julius Page scored 17 points. With the victory, the Panthers moved on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974. Note that at this point in time, Pitt fans still found Sweet 16 appearances new and exciting instead of something to complain about.

Pitt 74, Indiana 52 — 2003: The Panthers advanced to their second-consecutive Sweet Sixteen with a victory over Indiana. Pitt then went on to play Wade and Marquette, but like I said, we’re not going to discuss such things. Against the Hoosiers, Pitt once again held an opponent scoreless for an extended period, this time over the last 6:33 of the first half. The Panthers took a 31-21 lead into the break. Although Indiana closed the gap to six in the second half, Pitt regained control and eventually pulled away for the 22-point win. Pitt’s Jaron Brown scored a career-high 20 points, and Knight put up 17 points and dished out seven assists. After this game, head coach Ben Howland left for UCLA and the Jamie Dixon era began in Pittsburgh.

Pitt 59, Wisconsin 55 — 2004: Pitt advanced to its third-straight Sweet Sixteen with the victory over the Badgers. This is about the time when fans started grumbling about the Sweet Sixteen not being good enough. But this game is one of the most impressive Panthers victories over the last 10 years — Tournament or not — and it deserves to be remembered. The third-seeded Panthers faced off against the sixth-seeded Badgers in Milwaukee — a virtual road game for Pitt. Faced with a sea of red, Panther guard Carl Krauser scored 16 points and Page added 12 to lead the Panthers beyond Wisconsin star Devin Harris and the rest of the Badgers . The Panthers, struggling offensively, couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma State in the next round.

Pitt 84, VCU 79 (OT) — 2007: After a two-year break from the Sweet Sixteen, Pitt returned with an overtime victory over Virginia Commonwealth in Buffalo, N.Y. Seeded third, the Panthers expected a matchup with Duke in the second round. Instead, the Blue Devil fans filed out disappointed and Pitt faced off against the Rams’ Eric Maynor — who hit the winning shot against Duke — and the No. 11 seed VCU instead. Facing a 19-point deficit, the Rams climbed their way back into the game and took their first lead with 52 seconds left. Despite the majority of the Buffalo crowd backing the underdog, the Panthers managed to tie the game back up and force overtime. In the extra period, Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon took over for Pitt with Ramon scoring five points and Fields doing what he did best — hitting a clutch 3-pointer.

Pitt 60, Xavier 55 — 2009: Ah, yes — the year the barrier finally came down. With the win over Xavier in Boston, the Panthers advanced to their first NCAA Tournament Regional Final in school history. For a little while, Pitt fans everywhere were pleased. Soon after, the same fans decided that Pitt just can’t get past the Elite Eight. Sigh. Anyway, one of the most iconic images from this Tournament run was DeJuan Blair raising his arms after Fields’ crucial late game breakaway layup. And then there was Fields’ signature shot — a clutch 3-pointer in the final minutes. As the Panthers celebrated on the court, everything was right in Pitt’s world at the time — at least until the Villanova game rolled around.

So, with the NCAA Tournament officially under way, the Panthers are poised to make yet another run with their second No. 1 seed in three years. Maybe it’ll end too soon, but maybe it’ll provide Pitt fans with the most exciting game yet: a win to send the Panthers to the Final Four.

But if that doesn’t happen, Pitt fans should remember that it takes more than just a great team to advance in the Tournament — great teams lose all the time. Teams have to be playing their best at the right time. Sometimes it’s all about getting the right draw.

One thing I can almost guarantee is that there will be a game in this Tournament that Panther fans will be able to look back on and smile. For the record, a few of Pitt’s losses have also been classic games.

But it’ll take a little bit longer for anyone in Pittsburgh to smile and say “Scottie Reynolds” — of Villanova — at the same time.

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