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Big East: Third time isthe charm for Pittsburgh

In their third consecutive title game, the Panthers run away from UConn in the second half for a 74-56 victory, their first league championship.

©Associated Press

March 16, 2003

NEW YORK -- Pittsburgh's three seniors got the school its first Big East championship in their third straight title game.

Brandin Knight, limping on an injured ankle, Donatas Zavackas and Ontario Lett all got to share in the celebration for the first time Saturday night, following the fifth-ranked Panthers' 74-56 victory over Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers (26-4) ended their title-game losing streak with their defense, the seniors leadership and big contributions from underclassmen.

"I just can't say enough about our team," said Knight, the conference's player of the year last season. "All the guys came off the bench and were great. They all just step up and make plays."

Connecticut (21-9), which beat Pittsburgh 74-65 in double overtime in last year's championship game, managed just six points over the final six minutes as the Panthers pulled away.

The Huskies were trying to tie Georgetown's record of six tournament titles and this one would have been special for coach Jim Calhoun, who missed five games this season for prostate cancer surgery.

Jaron Brown had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Pittsburgh, which has won nine straight and held the opponent to fewer than 60 points in the last five of those. Knight had 16 points, tournament MVP Julius Page had 14, and Chevon Troutman 12.

Lett and Zavackas were both saddled with foul trouble, but they and Knight were the three seniors with so much on the line.

"It makes it more special," Knight said of losing the first two trips to the championship. "I was feeling like the Buffalo Bills. We finally got over the hump, overcame all the odds and won the game."

Taliek Brown had 15 points and Ben Gordon added 13 for the Huskies, who shot 32 percent (8-for-25) in the second half and finished with 20 turnovers.

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