|Pitt freshman center Blair gets big test vs. No. 6 Duke|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 December 2007 15:14|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -DeJuan Blair always looked forward to watching Duke play while he was growing up in Pittsburgh. He loved how the Blue Devils played team ball and, most of all, how they won, and couldn't wait to be recruited by them.|
The wait never ended.
Duke may have been on top of Blair's list, but the 6-foot-7 Blair was never on the Blue Devils' watch list. The star of Schenley High School's Pennsylvania big school state championship team was recruited by numerous schools, but not Duke, so he signed instead with hometown Pitt.
So imagine Blair's surprise and delight when Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon worked to land a Madison Square Garden game against No. 6 Duke (9-0) on Thursday night.
``They didn't recruit me at all. That's another reason I'm going to go hard on them,'' Blair said Tuesday. ``They're an excellent program and I wish I could have been recruited by them, but they looked the other way and got who they wanted. And Pitt got who they wanted.''
Blair is so excited about his first game against a national power like Duke, he is worried he won't be able to sleep the night before. For real.
``To just play against them and see what they can do on a big stage, see how they can come into the game, I can't wait,'' he said.
Blair may be matched against another star freshman, 6-7 Duke forward Kyle Singler, who averages 13 points and 6.1 rebounds. Blair has not seen Singler, who is from Medford, Ore., except on TV.
``He's a good player, a fundamental player, but he's not too physical, I guess,'' Blair said. ``I don't know if he likes to bang or not, but we're going to see on Thursday.''
Blair's averages of 11.8 points and 9.1 rebounds don't fully explain how quickly he has become an impact player for a Pitt team that is 10-0 for the fifth consecutive season and ranked No. 11.
Blair has stepped up his game as Pitt's competition has gotten better, with averages of 14.3 points and 11 rebounds in the last four games. He is an undersized center in height only, as Oklahoma State discovered during his 20-point, 10-rebound performance in Pitt's 85-68 victory Saturday.
Strong and athletic, Blair is difficult to move off the blocks at 265 pounds, yet is so quick for his size that he easily leads the team with 24 steals and 16 blocked shots.
``He gets in there and bangs around, pushes people around,'' Oklahoma State guard Terrel Harris said. ``He's just a very aggressive player.''
The freshman's strong debut is quieting talk that the Panthers' perceived lack of an inside presence would be a major problem a season after 7-footer Aaron Gray led them to a 29-8 record.
Since Pitt re-emerged as a national power in 2001, the Blue Devils (177-38) and Panthers (172-41) both rank in the top 5 nationally in wins. Each has played in the NCAA tournament six times and reached its conference tournament title game five times.
The schools have not played since a 78-69 Duke win on Jan. 26, 1980, or two years before Pitt joined the Big East. That they will play at Madison Square Garden, where Pitt is 17-8 since the 2000-01 season, only makes it better for Blair.
``I think it's the only (college) game (on TV) that night,'' Blair said. ``Seven o'clock at the Garden? Duke? I can't wait, thinking about it. It's going to be crazy.''
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