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Published:March 27th, 2009 09:50 EST
March Madness Recap: Third Round Winners In The West and East

March Madness Recap: Third Round Winners In The West and East

By Christopher HIllenbrand


Those of you with money on teams that were favored to win in the 2009 NCAA Men`s Basketball Tournament and denying the inevitable, keep your eyes glued to the following screed.

The books are closed on the championship title games in the Western and Eastern conferences, with those of you betting on Louisville and others anxious to see tonight`s games wrap up.

Starting in the Western Regional conference semifinals, Connecticut grappled with Purdue while Missouri was pitted against Memphis.

#1 seeded UConn took on 5th ranked Purdue Thursday night in Glendale, Arizona. After the momentum shifted back and forth between both teams, it was the Huskies` difference maker Hasheem Thabeet that stole the show and helped UConn defeat the Boilermakers 72-60. Thabeet was the Big East co-player of the year, sharing the distinction with DeJuan Blair from Pittsburgh, and it was no surprise why. He set the pace with 15 rebounds for UConn and went 6 for 7 with 15 points. Other Huskies scoring into double digits also included Craig Austrie who led the team with 17, and Stanley Robinson who had 10. Purdue`s top producer was Robbie Hummel who made 7 of his 17 shots for 17 points to go along with his 5 rebounds. UConn established a torrid pace in the beginning by taking an early 11-point lead over Purdue, but quickly lost its composure by allowing the #5 seeds to come back. Though neither the Huskies nor the Boilermakers had a shooting percentage of 40, the Huskies had 48 rebounds compared to Purdue`s 33. Essentially, the game was decided by defense and natural ability as Thabeet contributed to defense as well as sealing Purdue`s fate with a slam dunk with 6 minutes 28 seconds left on the clock. With the score at 57-45 at that point the Boilermakers were basically out of it as UConn went shot for shot against the underdogs.

In an offensive lightshow set against the backdrop of Glendale, 3th ranked Missouri faced #2 Memphis last night. Though it was difficult to tell who was who, as both teams share "Tigers" as their name, it wasn`t hard to see which of the two streaks was up to the challenge as Missouri won over Memphis 102-92. Missouri`s J.T. Tiller dominated his squad with 10 field goals going for 23 points, while helping his teammates with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Mizzou reigned supreme during the 1st half, and was up by 24 points 4 minutes into the 2nd, but plucky Memphis scrounged up reserves to cut the deficit to six with 2:14 left in the 4th period. Memphis` point guard Tyreke Evans tacked on 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists to the scoreboard, but with Memphis` pitiful 18-32 display from the foul line, he had to look on as Missouri advanced to face Connecticut in the Western title game on Saturday. It wasn`t merely Tiller who produced big for Mizzou though: all five starters finished with points scored in the double digits. DeMarre Carroll racked up 17 while Leo Lyons added another 15 to Missouri`s overall count. With 21.2 seconds left in the final minutes of play, Missouri`s Marcus Denman tallied up 2 more points. After a slam dunk by Memphis` Shawn Taggart, less than four seconds remianed on the clock before Denman let the ball fly across the court in celebration.

UConn takes on Missouri Saturday night in the Western Regional Finals game.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Regional Conference semifinals, Pittsburgh confronted Xavier and Villanova stacked up against Duke.

The #1 seeded Pittsburgh Panthers went head-to-head with the Xavier Musketeers, with the Panthers coming out on top 60-55 in the last minute thrill ride. Though Sam Young led the Panthers in points with 19, Big Ten co-player of the year DeJuan Blair was Pittsburgh`s best overall player as he went 6 for 15 with 14 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. In a streak he began in a 84-76 win against Oklahoma State this past week, Pittsburgh`s captain Levance Fields stood on the forefront by posting many of the game`s most clutch shots: most notably a 3-pointer with 50.9 seconds left in the game followed by a quick 2 points off of a steal. On the other side of the ball, Derrick Brown was the Musketeers` most valuable player with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists. Xavier started strong and led by eight coming out of halftime until Pittsburgh scored nine unanswered points at the start of the 3rd period. Xavier didn`t help their cause by missing 10 consecutive shot attempts at the beginning of the 2nd half. Coming down to the wire, the Musketeers` Terrell Holloway made a free throw with 16 seconds left, but Pittsburgh`s Sam Young and Brad Wannamaker added another 3 bringing the score to the final tally with 2.6 seconds `til the buzzer. Xavier`s poor performance in the 2nd half was a main contributor in their loss: they were only 7-29 from the field and were outscored 31 to 18 at the end of the photo finish matchup.

In a tournament beset with upsets, no upset was greater or more history altering than Villanova`s impressive victory over heavily favored Duke. The #3 Villanova Wildcats defeated the #2 Blue Devils 77-54 in their 1st win over Duke in over 50 years. But Villanova prides itself in the tradition of being the winningest team over higher-seeded opponents in tournament history, and has now raised that standard to 14. Prior to their competition on Thursday, Duke trumped Villanova 5 straight times in regular and postseason history since 1958. Villanova captain Dante Cunningham had 14 points and 11 rebounds and gave Reggie Redding, their defensive star, the support he needed. Redding excelled in all areas with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. Kyle Singler for the Blue Devils banked 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist. Duke began its assault immediately with 5 unanswered points, but gave away the next 11 and was never able to regain the lead again. Starting the 2nd half, the Blue Devils got the 1st points bringing the score to 25-26 when Villanova then scored the next 12 of 13 points. The consistent 3-point shot-making that propelled Duke past Binghamton and Texas completely deteriorated in this pivotal sudden death title game. After only making 3 of 18 3-point tries, Duke finished up only 5 for 27 overall in that category. Villanova also won the battle in rebounds, chalking up 49 to 34.

With the favored Pittsburgh facing the favored to upset Villanova on Saturday, no one in their right mind would risk any more than they`re willing to lose.