Hartford, Conn. It wasn’t just a game between No. 1 and No. 4. It was a game between two of the Big East’s most physical teams. And it was played just the way it was expected to be.
“That was the most physical game I ever played in my entire life,” DeJuan Blair after getting 22 points and 23 rebounds in No. 4 Pittsburgh’s 76-68 victory over No. 1 Connecticut on Monday night, the Panthers’ first win over a top-ranked team. “There were elbows flying, bodies flying. We just went after each other the whole game.”
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun referred to the games played in the conference over a decade ago.
“The Big East games in the 90s were like this,” he said after having his team’s 13-game winning streak stopped. “They came in here and played a style of basketball we haven’t seen this year and it was effective against us. ... They made big plays and we didn’t. It was a hell of a basketball game.”
The biggest of those plays were three-pointers from Levance Fields, who scored all 10 of his points in the final 3:09. His first three gave the Panthers (24-2, 11-2) the lead for good at 64-61 with 3:09 left. His second three with 2:21 left made it 67-61, and he added four free throws in the final minute.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon kidded around that if he knew Fields had missed his first eight shots, he might not have called plays for him.
Those misses didn’t faze Fields, a senior point guard who leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“I think every shot I take is going in so it didn’t matter how many I had missed,” he said. “It didn’t matter that I missed the first eight, I got the biggest two.”
A.J. Price had 18 points for the Huskies (24-2, 12-2), who started their third week at No. 1 earlier Monday.
Sam Young had 25 points for Pittsburgh, which lost all 13 games it had played against No. 1 teams, the last three against UConn over the last 11 years.
The game was expected to be physical down low and it was with the 6-foot-7 Blair flipping 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet over his back in the first half, sending him to the bench for about 4 minutes. Blair got a dose back in the second half when he had to leave the game for almost 3 minutes after taking an elbow to the face.
“It seemed like a typical game to us, big bodies, good players, playing hard on a national stage,” Dixon said. “It didn’t seem too much of a change for us.”
Calhoun felt it was quite a change for his team.
“We haven’t played in that sort of game since the early 2000s, the 1990s,” he said.