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Updated: Friday, March 14, 2003 10:45 PM EST
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(5) Pittsburgh 61, Boston College 48
Pittsburgh Panthers
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NEW YORK (Ticker) - The muscle of Donatas Zavackas and Pittsburgh has it one step away from an elusive goal.

Zavackas collected 19 points and 11 rebounds as the fifth-ranked Panthers moved into the championship of the Big East Conference tournament for the third straight year with a 61-48 victory over Boston College.

Pittsburgh (25-4) has never won the Big East tournament, losing to Boston College and Connecticut in the last two finals. The Panthers won their eighth straight and will face Syracuse or Connecticut in Saturday's championship.

"There's no way I'm going to lose this one," Zavackas said. "It's our third in a row, it doesn't matter who we play."

Zavackas followed up on his 16-point performance in Thursday's quarterfinal victory over Providence with a strong first half, collecting 11 points and seven rebounds.

The Panthers held a convincing 44-29 edge on the glass, simply manhandling the Eagles.

"We talked about how important the rebounding is," Panthers coach Ben Howland said. "We were up 24-10 at the half and ended up winning the rebounds by 15."

The victory may have been a costly one for Pittsburgh as point guard Brandin Knight landed hard on his right ankle with less than seven minutes to play and suffered a strained peroneal tendon. Knight was hobbled for last year's championship and is a game-time decision for Saturday.

Jaron Brown grabbed nine rebounds and Julius Page and Ontario Lett each added six as Pitt assaulted the backboards. The Panthers scored 16 points off 16 offensive rebounds.

Boston College (18-11) was hurt by a double technical whistled on freshman Craig Smith and Zavackas with 11:18 left before halftime. Smith, who scored 33 points in Thursday's overtime win over St. John's, picked up a personal before the technical and had to watch from the bench for the rest of the half with three fouls.

"For a 'T' to be called, everybody was like 'Why?'" BC coach Al Skinner said. "It was just an unfortunate situation and obviously it had a tremendous impact on the game."

Smith picked up his fourth foul early in the second half for barreling into Zavackas and finished with a quiet 13 points.

"I just got to the spot and he tried to push me off," Zavackas said. "A little bit of acting helps all the time. But it was a good call."

Knight was also in first-half foul trouble with a pair, but freshman Carl Krauser helped spark the Panthers. Krauser's layup capped a 9-0 surge that opened up a 24-12 lead with 5:43 to go.

Page scored 16 points and Lett added 11 for Pitt, which shot 46 percent (24-of-52). Page was the catalyst on defense against Big East Player of the Year Troy Bell, who made just 7-of-20 shots.

BC shot just 28 percent (14-of-49) and was held to its lowest point total of the season.

The Eagles climbed within 37-27 on a 3-pointer by Bell with 15 minutes remaining. Zavackas responded with back-to-back 3-pointers for a 16-point cushion and Pitt led by as many as 20 points in the second half.

"I thought Zavackas - it got to a 10-point game and then, boom, boom, back-to-back threes that got us up by 16," Howland said. "There was no way we were losing by that point."

Bell finished with 21 points, but many of them came after the game was decided. His backcourt mate, Ryan Sidney, did not score until the final two minutes of the contest.

The loss was just the second in seven games for BC, which must hope for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

"I would like to think that we've earned a bid, but I don't know what the committee is thinking," Bell said. "But I would say that we are in. I would like to think."

© 2005 STATS, Inc