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Pitt big man Zanna is taking big steps forward

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 10:18 p.m.
Pitt's Talib Zanna shoots against Duquesne during the City Game on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Pitt has produced six Big East most improved players since 1999-2000, and if redshirt junior forward Talib Zanna continues to play as he did during the nonconference schedule, he may be the Panthers' next and final candidate for the conference award.

Through 13 games this season, Zanna leads the Panthers in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (6.3 rpg) and field-goal percentage (62.3) with an average of 23.3 minutes per game.

Last season, the 6-foot-9 Zanna averaged 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and shot 57.1 percent from the floor in 19.3 minutes per game.

He has scored a career-high 20 points in three different games this season and has finished in double figures in scoring in all but four games for No. 24 Pitt (12-1), which opens Big East play against No. 8 Cincinnati (12-0) on Monday.

Zanna has started every game this season and played a career-high 32 minutes against Delaware State on Dec. 19 with center Dante Taylor sidelined with a bruised heel.

“I think he just understands more,” coach Jamie Dixon said of Zanna. “That's so general, but I think he's gotten better each year so the process continues. I think the biggest thing is just simplifying his game. He seems to be finishing, keeping the ball up, taking the first open shot. He had a tendency to have the open shot and dribble into a tougher position, so I think that's probably the biggest step.”

Zanna credits experience and off-season work for his improvement but also noted the role his teammates, in particular point guards Tray Woodall and James Robinson, have played in his increased scoring.

“They're pass-first point guards, so when you're wide open, they're going to pass it to you,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time, and they pass me the ball, and that's how I keep finishing.”

Zanna played in all 39 games in 2011-12 with 14 starts and also gained experience as a center. He finished the season well, averaging 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in six CBI games, and was named the team's best defender at the season-ending awards banquet.

“He's always been in great shape and always ran hard,” Dixon said. “He's probably a little stronger (this year). His running gets us baskets by other guys getting guarded and him getting other guys open by being guarded. I think those are things he's doing really well. But he's always done that. He finished strong last year, too, so I think it's a continuation of what he did last year.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kprice@tribweb.com.

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