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Pitt center Zanna continues to lift his game in senior season

| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 10:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna goes up for a dunk against Clemson on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

It would be hard to blame center Talib Zanna for feeling confident entering Pitt's first season in the ACC.

The Panthers were moving to a conference in which offense is dominant and rangy, athletic players such as the 6-foot-9 Zanna are encouraged to shoot. Five of the top six scorers in the ACC this week are frontcourt players.

“Play an up-tempo game,” Zanna said during ACC media day in October when asked what the conference change means to him. “ACC is up-and-down. I think the change is good. Probably we'll try new things. It's going to be fun.”

Pitt (17-2, 5-1 ACC) is winning while playing at a slightly faster offensive pace. Taking about one more shot per game, the Panthers have produced a higher scoring average from last season.

The Panthers averaged 74.0 points in their first six ACC games compared to 65.9 points against Big East opponents last season. Overall, Pitt averages 76.0 points compared to 69.2 in 2012-13.

Zanna, meanwhile, has increased his scoring average from 9.6 to 13.4 points to rank second on the team behind fellow senior Lamar Patterson. Zanna leads Pitt in rebounding (7.9), field-goal percentage (61.7) and blocks (17).

In Saturday's rematch at Maryland, Zanna will attempt to build on his Jan. 6 performance at Petersen Events Center when he scored 13 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in a 79-59 victory.

“He's played really well,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Thursday. “Offensively he's shown more patience. We've gone inside to him. Teams are really digging down in the post. He was trying to thread it, play in crowds. Since then, he's let it come to him. More balance. It's all coming together.”

Saturday's game has special meaning for Zanna, who attended Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., about 20 minutes from the Terrapins' campus in College Park.

“Maryland's right up the street from us. It's a homecoming, basically,” said Martin Keithline, who coached Zanna at Bishop McNamara.

With the departure of Steven Adams to the NBA, Zanna advanced his role as a scorer while continuing to be a rebounding and defensive force.

“We've got good passers giving him the ball,” Dixon said. “He can stretch the (defense) and make shots. He's best around the basket, making plays.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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