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Pitt zeroing in on junior forward Zanna for lift

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 11:04 p.m.
Pitt forward Talib Zanna plays against Duquesne at Consol Energy Center Dec. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

When Pitt started Big East play, Talib Zanna was leading the Panthers in scoring and being touted as a candidate for the conference's Most Improved Player award.

Zanna dropped 20 points twice and had double digits in nine of the first 13 games, but the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior power forward has scored in double figures twice against nine Big East opponents — and none in the past six games.

“It's the Big East, so the intensity is going to improve,” Zanna said. “I've just got to be patient and let the game come to me. Sometimes, I try to rush some shots. I've got to take my time and make plays and make my teammates better. I just want to bring what the coach wants me to bring to the table.

“There's no pressure on me.”

The decline in Zanna's statistics has been something of a head scratcher given that the Panthers consider him one of their hardest workers and most aggressive players despite the dip in production.

“I think it's mental with him,” redshirt junior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “He'll be fine. That's a player I don't worry about. He works very hard. He's just got to get it back going.”

If Zanna can reverse his fortunes, he could be a key for Pitt (17-5, 5-4) in solving the signature zone defense of No. 6 Syracuse (18-2, 6-1), which visits Petersen Events Center at noon Saturday.

“He's very important. He's capable of knocking down that mid-range jump shot,” Patterson said. “To beat the zone, we've got to be able to get it inside and get in the middle of it. He's our big that's going to be able to do it.”

Not only has Zanna gone from Pitt's leading scorer in nonconference games to its No. 3 scorer in Big East play, but also his field-goal and free-throw percentages are down, and his rebounding has declined.

“It was something that we didn't take for granted,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “We were excited about it and recognizing it as a strength. Obviously they haven't been as high in recent days, but we've won a lot of games during that stretch, too. It shows up more when you don't get a win, and that's what happened Monday.”

Zanna's problems have come closer to the basket, where he had trouble finishing in the 64-61 loss at Louisville. His first two touches resulted in shots blocked by 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng; on his third try, Zanna scored a reverse layup.

Dixon has preached patience and balance to Zanna.

“I expect him to be active and aggressive and be back to scoring baskets for us at the percentage he was,” Dixon said. “He was shooting a high percentage and finishing at such a high rate that you wonder if it's going to continue all the way through. There are going to be some games where he doesn't measure up to those numbers, but his effort has been tremendous.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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