March 17, 2002
By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH - There's no 'D' in Pittsburgh, but try telling that to California's can't-score Golden Bears.
Pitt held California without a point for 9 1/2 minutes during a decisive 16-0 run, and the defense-driven Panthers moved into the South Regional semifinals with a 63-50 victory Sunday.
Julius Page scored seven of his 17 points during that spurt, which began with Cal leading 32-28 with 16:40 remaining and ended with Pitt up 44-32 with 7:08 left. The Golden Bears went more than 11 minutes without scoring a basket, and 15-plus minutes with only one basket.
Pitt third-team All-American Brandin Knight was an all-over-the-floor force with 11 points and seven assists, but he wasn't really a factor offensively - not that he needed to be with Pitt's defense so dominating, so controlling.
The 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 of play.
By winning twice within a mile of its campus, third-seeded Pitt (29-5) advances to the regional semifinals for only the second time in school history, and the first time since losing to David Thompson's sky-walking North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 1974 regional finals. Until now, that was the only Pitt team to win two games in an NCAA tournament.
Now the Panthers will play 10th-seeded Kent State on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
Good college basketball teams aren't supposed to win when shooting 43 percent or making only 12-of-26 free throws or getting so little offense from their star, as Pitt did.
Of course, skilled teams such as sixth-seeded Cal (23-9) - which beat UCLA twice - are supposed to make more than three of their first 20 shots in a half. The Bears, growing increasingly frustrated the longer they failed to score, were only 9-of-31 (29 percent) in the second half and 18-of-58 (31 percent) overall.
Chevy Troutman, a freshman making only his second career start, added 11 points for Pitt, and Ontario Lett outmuscled Cal's bigger front line for 10 points in Pitt's biggest victory in more than a quarter-century. The Panthers won for the 11th time in 12 games and 14th time in 16 games.
Pitt, playing Cal for the first time in 51 years, 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.
In a game in which two of the nation's top defenses were as dominant as the offenses in UCLA's 105-101 upset of Cincinnati on the same floor earlier Sunday, neither team led by more than four points in the first half. Pitt led 26-25 at the break.
It clearly was a pro-Pitt crowd in a sold-out Mellon Arena - any Panthers' run brought resounding waves of noise, but it wasn't nearly as loud as if the game had been played on their home court a mile away.
Cal coach Ben Braun tried to downplay Pitt's hometown advantage, no doubt trying to convince the Bears that the atmosphere was less hostile than some of the Pac-10 courts where they play.