The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,763) -- New York, New York. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: Pittsburgh 3-0, Texas 2-0. Away Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Texas 0-0. Neutral Record: Pittsburgh 1-0, Texas 1-0. Conference Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Texas 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The fifth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers and Texas Longhorns will meet up this evening at Madison Square Garden in the championship game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Jamie Dixon's Panthers navigated their way through the semifinal round with a 79-70 victory over a tough Maryland squad. With the win, Pittsburgh moved to 4-0 on the young season.
Rick Barnes' Longhorns are short on veteran leadership but long on talent. The team proved that last night, upsetting 13th-ranked Illinois in semifinal action, 90-84 in overtime. With the win, Texas moved to 3-0 on the season after a pair of lopsided victories in Austin.
The all-time series between Pitt and Texas is knotted at 1-1.
It was a back-and-forth battle, with Maryland responding after Pittsburgh would make a run, but in the end, the Panthers wore down the Terrapins and earned a tough nine-point victory to move into the title game. Talib Zanna led the Panthers down low with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Ashton Gibbs helped out with 13 points and seven boards, while Gilbert Brown (11 pts, seven rebs), Travon Woodall (11 pts, five assts) and Brad Wanamaker (10 pts) got involved as well. It was a bit of a sloppy effort for Pitt, as the team turned the ball over 16 times, but the Panthers were able to get to the free-throw line an impressive 37 times in the game and outscored the Terrapins from the charity stripe, 26-14.
Freshman forward Tristan Thompson was huge in the paint for the Longhorns, as he finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots, leading Texas into the championship round this evening. Sophomore Jordan Hamilton was equally impressive, with 25 points and seven boards, followed by Gary Johnson's 16 points and seven caroms. It was a nip-and-tuck game all the way through, with Texas finally being able to distance itself in the extra session. Texas shot a pedestrian .449 from the floor in the game, but held Illinois to a worse .384 effort. The 6-7 Hamilton is a rising star in the Big 12 and comes into the title game averaging a gaudy 23.3 ppg. Thompson has made an immediate impact as the 6-8 youngster is netting 16.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per outing. Johnson gives the team yet another option in the frontcourt at 16.0 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per outing.
The Panthers are a well-rounded team with depth both up front and in the backcourt. Their veteran leadership may just win out over the younger Longhorns. Although that thinking didn't ring true in yesterday's semifinals.