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Connecticut Huskies edge Pittsburgh Panthers in Big East tournament

Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, center, celebrates after making the winning shot against top-seeded Pittsburgh.

Associated Press

Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, center, celebrates after making the winning shot against top-seeded Pittsburgh.

NEW YORK — Kemba Walker, like everyone in Madison Square Garden, knew he was going to take Connecticut's final shot.

Tied with top-seeded Pittsburgh with 15 seconds to go, Walker dribbled down the final seconds, made such a move that 6-foot-11 defender Gary McGhee fell down and made a stepback jumper as time expired as the ninth-seeded Huskies eliminated the Panthers 76-74 in the Big East quarterfinals.

"I wanted to take that shot," said Walker, a 6-foot-1 junior guard who had 24 points, his third straight game over 20 in the tournament.

"I knew McGhee was going to switch, and I know if I had him, it was going to be time to go. That's the way it was, and I was able to break him down and get a clean look at the basket."

UConn will face fourth-seeded Syracuse in today's semifinal, the first time the two schools have met in the tournament since 2009, when the Orange prevailed in a six-overtime classic.

Thursday's first game was a taut thriller with Pitt leading by as many as 12 early and UConn (24-9) never leading by more than three. Pitt's Ashton Gibbs had a career-high 27 points, including 6-for-7 on 3-pointers, the last of which tied it at 74 with 47 seconds left.

Walker, who had missed two shots in the final two minutes, missed again with 20 seconds left, but Jamal McDaniel-Coombs got the offensive rebound, setting up the winning shot.

"We played, in my opinion, the best team in the league in Pitt," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "Kemba has made a ton of big shots this year, and like I said, I think he's the most important guy for a single team in college basketball. I'm really proud of our kids."

The early exit for Pittsburgh (27-5) could put a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy, though coach Jamie Dixon said he's confident the Big East regular-season championship and his team's body of work will carry more weight than a one-point loss to a ranked team.

"One game doesn't change the other 31," Dixon said. "It seems in the past, there has been a history of conference tournaments not changing too much where you end up."

Fourth-seeded Syracuse earned its way in with a 79-73 win against St. John's, getting a late 11-2 run in the final 2:25 to pull away, including two key baskets by 7-foot freshman center Fab Melo. The Orange (26-6) put five players in double figures, led by guard Brandon Triche's 22.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was happy his team could find itself quickly after a double-bye into the quarterfinals.

"I've said for two years now, when you sit around till Thursday, it's not good," he said. "I think it's difficult for the top seeds to do that. I'm glad we won so everybody doesn't think I'm crying. But I don't think it's a good way to do it."

St. John's (21-11) will enter the NCAA Tournament without one of its leaders. D.J. Kennedy was lost early in the game to a torn right ACL.

Today's semifinal pits two of the Big East's best programs when it comes to reaching the final. Syracuse has been there 21 times with a 15-6 record in semifinals, and Connecticut is 9-3 in its semifinal appearances.

No. 4 Notre Dame 89, No. 25 Cincinnati 51: Ben Hansbrough led an efficient attack with 23 points, and the Irish (26-5) dismantled the Big East's top defense.

Carleton Scott scored 18 and Tim Abromaitis had 17 for the Irish, who have already won more games than in any other season under coach Mike Brey.

Sporting its highest national ranking since December 1980, Notre Dame has won five straight and 12 of its past 13.

Dion Dixon scored 15 and Yancy Gates, coming off a career-best 25 in a second-round win over USF, added 12 for Cincinnati.

The Bearcats (25-8) shot 32.8 percent from the field and went the final 7:25 without scoring.

Cincinnati wasn't much better on defense despite coming in allowing 58.6 points per game.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Connecticut Huskies edge Pittsburgh Panthers in Big East tournament 03/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 6:00pm]
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