NEW YORK - One year has made a remarkable difference for Joe Alexander and West Virginia.
Last March, Alexander didn't score a point as the Mountaineers beat Clemson in the NIT championship game.
Yesterday, the 6-foot-8-inch junior forward scored a career-high 34 points on the same Madison Square Garden court as West Virginia beat No. 15 Connecticut, 78-72, in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-7) will play top-seeded and ninth-ranked Georgetown in tonight's semifinals. It will be West Virginia's second appearance in the tournament's final four; it lost in the 2005 championship game.
The coach of that team was John Beilein. Bob Huggins has gotten the Mountaineers that far in his first season at his alma mater, and Alexander has been the key to the season-closing run that had almost assured them of at least an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"The adjustment has come for me. I'm in better shape physically, lifting more throughout the entire season," he said. "I feel like I have my legs underneath me as opposed to last year when I lost a lot of weight at this point."
All he's been losing lately are defenders.
Alexander is averaging 29.8 points over his last five games, a streak that started with a then-career-high 32 points in a 79-71 loss to Connecticut March 1. He had 22 points in an opening-round win over Providence.
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun found it hard to believe Alexander torched his team for the second time in less than two weeks.
"Alexander is a terrific player. Our kids feel after he gets it, they were going to stop him," Calhoun said. "When he got around 27 or 28, I thought it would be a good idea if they realized that, by the way, he had 32 the first time, before they realized he was a good basketball player."
A.J. Price had 22 points for the Huskies (24-8), who have lost their last four games in the Big East tournament, a streak that started with a loss in the semifinals in 2005.
Huggins, who was out of coaching in 2005-06 after 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances with Cincinnati, led Kansas State to the NIT last year in his only season there.
"They've been good," Huggins said of his current team. "All you ask is that guys come in every day and they listen and they work and for the most part these guys have done that."
Alexander was 12 for 22 from the field and 10 for 12 from the free throw line as West Virginia led throughout the second half. The Mountaineers' biggest lead was 13 points, the last time at 61-48 with 9:18 left, and they held off a run that had the Huskies as close as 70-65 on a driving layup by Price with 2:02 to play.
West Virginia had come up with four offensive rebounds in the three possessions before and the one after that basket to take the wind out of the Huskies' comeback.
Georgetown 82, Villanova 63 - Jessie Sapp scored 23 points and the Hoyas tied a Big East tournament record with 17 3-pointers, fending off a second-half comeback to beat the Wildcats.
Jonathan Wallace hit five 3-pointers and had 19 of his 20 points in the first half for the defending champion Hoyas (26-4), who improved to 13-0 when they have the top seed in the conference tournament.
They advance to play No. 5 seed West Virginia in today's semifinals.
Villanova trailed by as many as 15 points late in the first half, but went on a 26-9 run after Georgetown forward Patrick Ewing Jr. picked up a technical for throwing the ball in the air after a foul under his own basket.
Dante Cunningham gave the eighth-seeded Wildcats (20-12) their first lead with two free throws that made it 45-43 with 13:41 left, and Antonio Pena's putback moments later gave the heavy underdogs a 4-point lead.
Sapp came alive a few minutes later, converting a 3-point play to put Georgetown ahead, 51-50, with 12:04 to go. He followed with a 3-pointer to begin building the lead and the Hoyas pulled away.
Pittsburgh 76, Louisville 69 - Sam Young had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and hit a pair of free throws with less than a minute left in overtime to help the Panthers beat the No. 13 Cardinals and advance to the semifinals.
The seventh-seeded Panthers (24-9) outscored Louisville, 12-2, to start the overtime, and their 74-64 lead with 30.9 seconds left was their biggest of the game.
Pittsburgh, which has knocked Louisville out of three straight conference tournaments, advanced to play No. 6 seed Marquette.
DeJuan Blair added 16 points and eight rebounds for Pittsburgh, which knocked the Cardinals out in the first round of the tournament two years ago and in the semifinal last year. Pittsburgh has been to the last two tournament finals and six of the past seven.
Earl Clark scored 19 for Louisville (24-8), and Derrick Caracter, Juan Palacios, and David Padgett had 11 each.
Marquette 89, Notre Dame 79 - Jerel McNeal scored a career-high 28 points and the No. 25 Golden Eagles upset the No. 14 Fighting Irish.
Marquette (24-8) was 0-2 in its only two previous quarterfinal appearances in the tournament and its first win in that round came at the expense of the conference player and coach of the year, Luke Harangody and Mike Brey of Notre Dame.
Reserve guard Maurice Acker scored 10 of his 11 points in a 4:07 span of the second half when Marquette took its first double-digit lead with 3:37 to play.
Kyle McAlarney had 20 points for the Fighting Irish (24-7), who reached the semifinals last year for the second time in school history.
Notre Dame appeared to be in good shape at halftime, leading, 38-32, despite Harangody, the conference's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, being limited to just seven minutes because of foul trouble.