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Pitt, Kent State gaining recognition with advance to round of 16

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Pitt point guard Brandin Knight isn't buying into all the talk about Kent State being one of the overachieving teams remaining in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

``They deserve as much respect as any other team that's still playing, even though they don't get it,'' said Knight, the Big East's co-player of the year with Connecticut's Caron Butler.

``Any team that's playing right now is a good team. I don't know how many more games the media or anyone else has to watch Kent State win before they realize this is not a Cinderella team.''

The Panthers _ and the rest of the nation _ will have another opportunity to see just how talented the 10th-seeded Golden Flashes are when the two teams meet in the South Regional semifinals Thursday night.

Kent State (29-5), which has won 20 straight and 25 of 26, isn't new to the NCAA tournament or postseason play.

The Golden Flashes lost to Temple in the first round in 1999 and fell to Cincinnati in the second round last year, with a trip to the third round of the NIT sandwiched between.

``I don't think we have anything to prove to the media or the fans,'' said Andrew Mitchell, a senior guard who has started a school-record 128 career games. ``We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and what we can do as a group.

``We felt when we got into the tournament that we could get a few wins and make it this far. We'll let the media handle who is the Cinderella team and who isn't.''

Third-seeded Pitt, which advanced with victories over Central Connecticut State and California, also was overlooked much of the season and was considered somewhat of a surprise entrant in the round of 16.

The Panthers (29-5) are enjoying the best year in school history behind the crafty Knight, an aggressive coach and an unrelenting defense that allows fewer than 61 points a game.

The only other time Pitt won two NCAA tournament games was 1974, when it reached the East Regional final before falling to eventual champion North Carolina State.

``Neither one of our teams is familiar with making a run in the tournament like this,'' said Knight, who averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 assists during the regular season.

``Kent State is a little more experienced in that they've been here before, but I just think that people aren't paying much attention to our game. It's going to be exciting and a steppingstone for both programs.''

Pitt coach Ben Howland said the Golden Flashes' experience against quality opponents has prepared them for the Panthers' swarming, physical defense.

``They saw great defense in the first two games of this tournament against Oklahoma State and Alabama,'' said Howland, the Big East's coach of the year.

``They played Kentucky, they played Xavier, they play in a tough and very underrated conference. ... Our defense is probably the least of their worries.''

Kent State first-year coach Stan Heath, who coached in three NCAA tournaments and won the 2000 national championship as a Michigan State assistant under Tom Izzo, said shutting down the versatile Knight will be the key to the game.

``You look at them and it all starts with Brandin Knight,'' he said. ``He's one of the best guards in the country and can control the tempo of a game.

``We have to do a good job containing him. You know going in you're not going to stop him. You just have to try to slow him down a little bit.''

Howland chuckled when asked how to keep his team motivated against a team most people expect them to beat.

``From what I've heard the last two days, I thought we were the underdog,'' he said. ``Trust me, we know how talented this team is and there will be no letdown.''

In the first game Thursday night, top-seeded Duke (31-3) will take on fifth-seeded Indiana (22-11) in a meeting of two of college basketball's most successful programs.

The Hoosiers are 12-point underdogs to the defending national champion Blue Devils, who are making their fifth straight appearance in the round of 16 under Mike Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski said he doesn't expect to get a lot of support playing on Kentucky's home floor at Rupp Arena.

The Blue Devils and Wildcats have gone head-to-head in some of the most intense and entertaining games of the last decade.

Duke's 104-103 overtime win in the 1992 East Regional final is considered by many to be the best game in tournament history. The Blue Devils also beat Kentucky 95-92 in overtime this season.

``I don't think our game will be decided by what happens in the stands,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``We feel like it's an honor to play here. Every time we've had the opportunity to play against Kentucky, we've always considered it a classic game.

``I see these blue `K' flags all over, and I thought it was a welcome for me. Being Polish, we're simple-minded, and that's the first reaction I had.''

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