Pitt's Blair makes most of first road trip
The Washington student section targeted DeJuan Blair the moment he missed a dunk during pregame warm-ups, but it misjudged the Pitt freshman center as someone who could be rattled by all of the attention.
Blair loves nothing more than a challenge, and playing before a hostile crowd was secondary to outperforming All-Pac-10 junior forward Jon Brockman.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Blair did just that in Pitt's 75-74 victory Saturday, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in 31 minutes. The 6-7, 255-pound Brockman had 17 points and 12 rebounds, but even the Seattle Times named Blair its player of the game.
A Wooden Award candidate, Brockman came in averaging 19.3 points and 11.6 rebounds a game to Blair's 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game.
"Everybody is saying that he's physical, and he likes to be a dirty player sometimes with the elbows, as you can see from my neck," Blair said, showing bruises. "I was just trying to avoid that and trying to get around him. I had a couple steals. I was just trying to stay around him and not let him get the ball."
Brockman was 8 of 18 from the field, scoring most of his points off seven offensive rebounds. Blair finished 7 of 13 from the field, making 5 of 7 shots in the second half. He dominated the first three minutes - scoring five points, blocking a shot and grabbing a rebound - as Pitt turned a 37-34 halftime deficit into a 44-44 tie.
"Not surprising," Pitt junior point guard Levance Fields said of Blair. "We knew he could play. That's why they recruited him. He's very confident in himself. He doesn't get shy about the situation. A lot of times, he made things happen on his own.
"A couple plays, it wasn't called for him, but he just went and got the offensive rebound and put it up and made a couple moves. That's just him being confident and knowing what his game is."
Blair made three pivotal baskets midway through the second half to give the Panthers a 62-56 lead, rebounding and scoring off a missed free throw by Fields, making a turnaround jump-hook and then making a layup that caused Washington to switch to a zone defense.
It was quite a turnaround from his first-half play, when Blair missed a dunk and a layup in the first four minutes. At halftime, he promised his teammates to he would finish.
"They came to me, and I missed a couple early shots and I told them I had 'em in the second half," Blair said. "Just like I put us down in the first half, I started the second half strong. I did an excellent job executing, getting my feet under me and taking my time shooting."
The game marked Blair's third double-double of the season, and he tied his career high for rebounds, grabbing seven in each half as the Panthers had a 35-34 edge.
"You know me; I love the boards," Blair said. "I'm going to rebound no matter what. Brockman is an excellent player. He's physical. But what am I• I'm everything he is."
And then some.
Remember, this was Blair's first road trip, and it covered 2,500 miles and two time zones during final exams. The former Schenley High School star grew up in the Hill District, so playing Duquesne at Palumbo Center had the comfort level of a playground pick-up game.
"You're playing against one of the best players in the country in Brockman - so start with that - in as tough a place to play in the country as there is, and you're on the road and he made big plays all the way through," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "His defense is getting better. He led the team in rebounds. I thought he'd be good, and he's good and getting better. He's very coachable. He's a great teammate and the physical skills are evident.
"He's a fun kid to have around."
And when the game ended after officials waved off Justin Dentmon's shot at the buzzer, Blair had some fun with the Huskies fans who had taunted him.
"They were getting on me. I love the fans, so when they said (the shot) wasn't good, I went over and said, 'What now?' What more could you say. I couldn't say nothing. I just held my jersey up," Blair said. "That's what they all came here for. It was an excellent crowd, and the atmosphere was electrifying. It was loud, a great place to play my first real road game. I loved it."