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Tennessee finally celebrates at buzzer

By Jim O'Connell

Associated Press

The Tennessee Volunteers finally got a chance to be the team doing the celebrating after a buzzer-beater.

Tennessee lost four games last season when an opponent hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation.

Last Sunday, Jon Higgins ended that trend with a shot from beyond midcourt as the clock ran out to give Tennessee a 70-69 victory over Georgia Tech in the Peach Bowl Classic.

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"It's one of those shots kids dream about," Higgins said. "I was watching it and praying that it went in. I just hope we don't have to be in this position again, but we'll take it."

After last season, the Volunteers should take it and run.

The four shots that led to Tennessee losses last season were: Reece Gaines of Louisville hitting a three with 1.8 seconds left in the Cardinals' 73-72 win; Jonathan Hargett of West Virginia hitting a 3 with 4.3 seconds left in the Mountaineers' 74-72 victory; Brett Nelson of Florida hit a 3 with 3.1 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. The Gators went on to a 104-100 victory; and Ezra Williams of Georgia picked up a loose ball and hit a 3 as time expired in the Bulldogs' 73-70 victory.

"It's a crazy game, the game of basketball," Volunteers coach Buzz Peterson said. "It was a heck of a shot. It was just one of those things. Luck was on our side.

"I remember talking to (Georgia coach Jim) Harrick last year, and he said it would all even out."

The meeting between the schools was the first since Tennessee defeated Georgia Tech 72-41 on Dec. 17, 1968. The Vols now lead the series 43-26.

DEFENSE-MINDED: Cincinnati junior college transfer Tony Bobbitt had his breakout game Tuesday night in the Bearcats' 77-52 trouncing of No. 5 Oregon in the Jimmy V Classic.

The 3-point specialist had 29 points, one more than he had all season, in the game at Continental Airlines Arena, the home of the New Jersey Nets and former Cincinnati All-American Kenyon Martin.

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Martin headed across the Hudson River after the Nets' 101-99 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. He made it for the final minutes of the Bearcats' victory. He talked with coach Bob Huggins and spent a few minutes chatting with Bobbitt.

"K just said to 'D-up,"' Bobbitt said. "I told him I was trying and he said, 'No, don't try, do it.' I had never met him and he pulled me to the side and he said, 'Look, if you can't D-up, you can't play for Coach Hugs."'

Bobbitt was asked if Martin mentioned his offensive effort.

"No," he said quickly. "All he talked about was defense."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Basketball's 111th birthday will be celebrated this weekend.

On Dec. 21, 1891, Dr. James Naismith started the sport at the YMCA in Springfield, Mass. by hanging a couple of peach baskets.

SPECIAL HONOR: There are always familiar names in the scores list this time of year. Tournaments and special events are named for people who have a special place in college basketball. John Wooden, Pete Newell and Jim Valvano are among those honored this way.

A new name, one unfamiliar to college basketball fans, appeared this week with the inaugural Billy Minardi Classic.

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Louisville coach Rick Pitino started the four-team tournament this year in honor of his best friend and brother-in-law, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The attacks still haunt Pitino, who sat in his Louisville office and watched on television as the drama of the attacks unfolded.

Minardi, the brother of Pitino's wife, Joanne, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 105th floor of the north tower. It was the first tower hit by a hijacked plane and the second one to collapse.

Pitino never heard from Minardi, who was eventually listed among the dead.

"It's been a difficult time for so many people, experiencing Sept. 11," Pitino said. "You find that each day that goes by, you don't miss your friend or your family member any less. You just try to hang your hat on something positive."

Pitino decided the best way to honor his friend was to create an annual basketball event in his name and he invited coaches who have a personal connection with him: Travis Ford of Eastern Kentucky, a former player of his at Kentucky, and Bobby Gonzalez of Manhattan and Ed Schilling of Wright State, who developed relationships with Pitino through summer camps.

"Billy was a special person," Pitino said. "He had a smile that would light up a room. He treated everybody as if they were his best friend, he rooted for everybody and he loved watching college and professional basketball games when they involved our family."

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