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Inside the College Game

Sat, 02/21/2009 - 3:29am

Pittsburgh’s Blair Makes Statement

 
 


DeJuan Blair
Photo: David A. DeNoma
 
In order to beat the top team in the country someone has to step up to the challenge. On Monday, it was Pittsburgh's local boy Dejuan Blair doing so, and doing it in a big way with 22 points and 23 rebounds vs. the top ranked UConn Huskies. Blair led the way as the visiting 4th ranked Pittsburgh Panthers took down the Huskies, 76-68.

This game was played at a tempo that not too many teams have played at this year, and it had coach Jim Calhoun saying that it reminded him of the old Big East games that were notoriously physical. The matchup between Blair and Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet looked more like a wrestling match at one point, with Blair flipping Thabeet over his back while hyper-extending his arm. Another play it was Thabeet landing an elbow on Blair's cheek. Both plays resulted in the recipient being taken out of the game for a short portion of the game. At the end of game, it was Blair who won the matchup in the paint, having a monster game by going right at one of the best shot-blockers in the nation in Thabeet who was pushed around and only ended up with 4 points and 5 rebounds. The numbers are even more amazing considering he was coming off a 25 points, 20 rebound, and 9 block performance vs. Seton Hall.

Led by Blair, Pittsburgh outrebounded Uconn, something that has yet to happen this year. The margin wasn't very close either, 43-30 was the advantage. The difference on the glass was the story of the game, and with the win, the hungry Panthers pulled themselves to the top of the Big East along with UConn.

Other Pittsburgh players deserve some credit as well. Seniors Sam Young (3/6 from 3pt, 25 points) and Levance Fields (10 points, 5 rebound, 5 assists) had some huge shots. None bigger than Field's first bucket of the game, a 3-pointer which snapped a tie game with 3:09 remaining. The Panthers never gave the lead back.

The loss snaps a 13 game win streak for the Huskies and makes them the 5th top ranked team to get knocked off this year. The rematch is set for March 7th when both teams should be looking to solidfy themselves for a top ranking in the NCAA tournament.

It’s time to acknowledge a few players who, for a variety of reasons decided to stay in school for four years and are now reaping the benefits.

Here are the top 5 Seniors this year:


Darren Collison of UCLA


As a sophomore, Collison was very high on the NBA radar but decided to stay in school. At times, his decision looked like a mistake, especially after some shaky games in the NCAA tournament. Now a senior, Collison has put himself right back on the NBA radar, and he’s shining even brighter. He is currently averaging career highs in points (14.8), assists (4.8), field goal % (53.6) and free throw % (93.3). He has stepped up as UCLA’s unquestioned leader and should be ready to make another run to the final four, which would be his fourth trip in four attempts.

Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina:


Hansbrough has never been a huge pro prospect despite outperforming just about everyone as the college level. That being said, Hansbrough has still had his chances to leave school and sign a NBA contract. He chose to stay each year and now he is a senior. The defending National Player of the Year should be a mid to late 1st round pick next year and is more ready to compete for minutes because he decided to stay in school. His outside game still needs improvement, but is much better than when he first suited up at Chapel Hill four years ago. This year, he is still the best player on the most talented team in the country, and the favorite to win the national championship. He has had monster games this year with 28 points and 12 rebounds in a win at Virginia. He scored 31 points on 12 of 17 shooting in a win at NC State. Most recently this Wednesday, he scored 27 points in a win at home on 10 of 15 shooting. The only thing left for him to
accomplish on the collegiate level would be cutting down the nets in March.

Jeff Adrien of UConn:


For Adrien, he really never had the opportunity to leave school for the pros, so staying at UConn four years was a no brainer. This doesn’t make his career any less impressive. As a freshman, Adrien wasn’t supposed to see the court with a team stacked of future NBA players. Yet, Coach Calhoun was forced to play him minutes because of his toughness. Being undersized at 6-7 and playing among the giants, Adrien only gets away with it because of his toughness. Now a senior, Adrien is averaging a double-double (14 points & 10 rebounds) and is the leader of the #1 ranked UConn Huskies.

Terrence Williams of Louisville:

At times, Williams has people asking if he is just an athlete in a basketball uniform. This year, he has answered those questions by setting career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, field goal %, and 3-point field goal %. Williams has his team ranked 7th in the nation and tied atop the country’s toughest conference. His game has been solid all around this year, and no game gives a better example than a league game versus Notre Dame where Williams was everywhere, scoring 24 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, dishing out 8 assists, and gathering 3 steals.

Sam Young of Pittsburgh:


Throughout Young’s career he has been the victim of being on good teams. In his first two years at Pittsburgh, Young was a productive role player, having occasional big games but never putting up consistent double-digits. As a junior last year, Young exploded, more than doubling his scoring output. This year as a senior, he has continued to do the same for Jamie Dixon’s squad, quietly leading them at a career high 18.2 ppg. He is coming off a big time game knocking off the top ranked UConn Huskies where scored 25 points on 8 of 13 shooting. In his past five games, he is shooting 63% from the field.

Notes:

In a 80-74 victory over the Duke Blue Devils, Boston College now joins Wake Forest as the only team this year to have knocked off both Duke and North Carolina. BC, unranked, were led by senior Tyrese Rice who had 21 points in the home upset, including the 2,000th point of his career. BC has proven to be a dangerous team at times, but also can play to the level of mediorce teams, as its loss to Harvard would attest. Now, they have 19 wins and are looking good to make the NCAA tournament, where high ranking teams similar to UNC and Duke will probably be looking to avoid in the early rounds...Arizona's Chase Budinger might finally be developing into the type of player that everyone expected when he was coming out of high school. The junior had 17 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals in a home victory over the 6th ranked UCLA Bruins, 84-72. Along with big man Jordan Hill and point guard Nic Wise, the Wildcats have three potential professionals that could combine to form a formidable team come March... If there is a good way to snap a 7-game losing streak, its the way that Notre Dame did it when the 7th ranked Louisville Cardinals visited last Thursday. The Fighting Irish came out with a 33 point victory, and got themselves some confidence back as pull their record up to 14-10 on the year. Luke Harangody continued to kill Rick Pitino teams, scoring 32 points and collecting 17 rebounds.
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