March 11, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) -- Pittsburgh reached the Big East tournament game for the fifth time in six years and continued the conference's run of postseason upsets.
The sixth-seeded Panthers beat No. 2 Villanova 68-54 Friday in the semifinals, and will meet ninth-seeded Syracuse for the title.
Pittsburgh (24-6) and Syracuse both won three games to get to the championship game, just the fourth and fifth times that has happened in tournament history. None of the previous three, including West Virginia last season, won the title. One of them will this year.
The Wildcats (25-4) not only joined top-ranked Connecticut, third-seeded West Virginia and fourth-seeded Marquette on the list of this year's losers, but they may also face an uncertain NCAA tournament.
Allan Ray, a first-team all-Big East selection and Villanova's second-leading scorer and rebounder, was hit in the right eye early in the second half and was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital for further evaluation.
The Wildcats should still hold on to a No. 1 seeding for the NCAA tournament, as should Connecticut, but Ray's health could be a major concern.
Syracuse (22-1), which beat Connecticut 86-84 in overtime in the quarterfinals and fifth-seeded Georgetown 58-57 in the semifinals, is the defending tournament champion.
Reserve guards Antonio Graves and Levance Fields led the Panthers, who had a run of four straight title game appearances from 2001-04, winning it all in 2003.
Graves, a junior who started 25 games last season and none in 2005-06, had 18 points, one off his career high, while Fields, a freshman, had a career-high 14. The two combined to go 13-for-25 from the field, including 5-for-12 from 3-point range.
The Panthers finished with a 45-22 advantage in rebounds and they did a good job defensively, holding the Wildcats, who came in averaging 76.2 points per game, to their second-lowest point total of the season.
Randy Foye, the conference's player of the year, had 26 points for Villanova, which shot 35.2 percent from the field (19-for-54), including 29.2 percent on 3s (7-for-24).
Pittsburgh led 32-21 at halftime and just 32 seconds into the second half, Ray was hit in the face as he and two Pittsburgh players battled for the ball on the floor near the Villanova bench.
The senior guard remained on the floor for several minutes, kicking his legs in obvious pain. He was helped to the locker room and then taken to the hospital.
The Panthers led 50-38 when they started to milk the shot clock on each possession. They made it work for four straight baskets with less then 5 seconds left on the 35-second clock. The last of the four was a drive by Fields with 3:21 left that made it 60-45.
That was the Panthers' final field goal and they went 8-for-12 from the free throw line over the final 1:55.
Villanova beat 10th-seeded Rutgers 87-55 in the quarterfinals.
Pittsburgh beat 11th-seeded Louisville 61-56 in the opening round and No. 19 West Virginia 68-57 in the quarterfinals.
Pittsburgh forward Levon Kendall, who missed the West Virginia game with back spasms, had six points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes on Friday.