BY Dick Weiss
NY DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
BOSTON - Levance Fields has never been nervous taking big shots. He's been doing it ever since he started playing basketball at age 12 on the playgrounds of the projects in Brownsville.
Pitt's fearless 6-0 senior point guard from Xaverian High in Brooklyn created another highlight reel for himself Thursday night. First, he drained a deep NBA 3-point jumper with 50.9 seconds to play to give the top-seeded Panthers a one-point lead over fourth-seeded Xavier. He then scored on a breakaway layup after a steal from guard B.J. Raymond on the next possession to give Pitt the breathing room it needed for a 60-55 victory in the NCAA East Regional semifinals.
"I made a lot (of shots) since I arrived at Pitt," said Fields, the 2005 Daily News Player of the Year. "The one that took me over the top was that step-back three I hit to beat Duke in overtime at Madison Square Garden my junior year. That gave me ultimate confidence and I've never looked back from there.
"But that was the regular season. This is the biggest stage."
Fields felt torn between relief and excitement as Pitt (31-4) took a giant step toward the school's first Final Four, advancing to the the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974. But no one wanted to pop any corks yet. "We feel like we've been here before, even though we haven't," Fields said. "As good as this feels, we still haven't done nothing."
The Panthers have yet to click on all cylinders this tournament, but they have learned how to survive and last night found a way to get by a gritty defensive team from the Atlantic 10.
Senior forward Sam Young led Pitt with 19 points. Fields had 14 points, six assists and two steals.
Pitt's massive 6-7, 265-pound sophomore DeJuan Blair, who was limited to just two points and four rebounds in a nondescript first half, finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds.
"He's our horse," Fields said. "I told him at half, 'Don't get down on yourself.' He did a great job scoring in the second half. Guys would kill for a 10-and-17 game. For him, that's like mediocre."
This was hardly an artistic masterpiece. Pitt shot just 33.8% for the game and went through one stretch in the second half when it missed 10 straight shots. Xavier (27-8) shot just 32.8%. But the Musketeers, who led by eight at halftime and got 15 points from guard B.J. Raymond overall, still looked as if they might steal the game after guard Dante Jackson provided a 54-52 lead on a driving layup with 1:51 left.
Xavier had a chance to perhaps add to that lead after B.J. Raymond blocked a 3-point jumper by Jermaine Dixon, but forward Derrick Brown stepped out of bounds after hauling in a desperation pass into the offensive end. That gave Fields the opportunity to become a star for a second straight game.
Fields had stepped up in the final moments of a second-round victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday in Dayton, scoring on a driving layup and then making a clutch 3-pointer in the final 2:42.
This time, he came off a screen from Blair and created enough space for himself for his three.
"I thought the shot Levance Fields hit is all about the poise of senior point guards," said Xavier coach Sean Miller, who was a great one himself when he played for Pitt from 1988-1992.
"I never get tired of watching Levance take big shots," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's made them year after year. Our guys believe in him. And that's all that matters."