Blair snags 18 rebounds, setting mark with 41 boards in two games

PITTSBURGH -- DeJuan Blair became tangled with DePaul's Matija Poscic as the two went for a rebound early in the game, but only for a moment. Once he realized Blair was pulling him as well as the ball, Poscic quickly yanked his arm away.

One could almost read Poscic's mind: Uhh, uhh, not happening to me.

Blair outmuscled DePaul inside for 20 points and 18 rebounds while setting No. 4 Pittsburgh's two-game record for rebounds, and the Panthers pulled away early in the second half for an 80-61 victory on Saturday night.

Blair, averaging 20 points during Pitt's seven-game winning streak, followed up his dominating 22-point, 23-rebound effort in a 76-68 win at No. 1 Connecticut on Monday with a similar can't-stop-me show, gathering 13 rebounds in the first 13 minutes and 16 by halftime.

In that game, Blair signaled early on that he didn't care if he was on the Huskies' home court, in front of their fans, he planned to take charge. He did that by effectively tossing 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet over his shoulder during a rebound -- and, intimidated or not, Thabeet ended with only 5 points and 4 rebounds.

No wonder Poscic wasn't about to experience a Thabeet-like takedown.

"I started laughing, man, because he got his arm out quick," Blair said. "I was snatching the ball. I think he saw what happened. He wasn't going to go over me and fly into the Zoo" -- referring to the Oakland Zoo, the Pitt student section.

Blair's 41 rebounds in successive games surpassed the Pitt record of 38 by former NBA player Jerome Lane.

"I was feeling I could get every rebound," Blair said. "I was going after the ball, going to get the money -- that's what I call the ball, the money. Go get that money, and we're going to get a win. I'll do anything for my team to win."

The 6-foot-7 Blair was limited to 2 rebounds in the second half, mostly because the Panthers (25-2, 12-2 in Big East) didn't miss as many shots -- 10 of his 18 rebounds were on the offensive end. He played only nine minutes in the second half, and 23 overall, after outrebounding DePaul 16-10 in the first half by himself.

"He has a Charles Barkley kind of body and a great feel for playing," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said.

Blair missed by two rebounds of becoming the first Pitt player to have at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in successive games, and of accomplishing it for the third time this season. Previously, former NBA star Billy Knight was the only Pitt player to have a pair of 20-20 games in a Pitt career.

"But you ask our guys, individual stats are secondary to winning," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "The 25 wins are what's important. A lot of our guys didn't play more minutes for obvious reasons."

Pitt opened a 21-10 lead but didn't expand on it the rest of the first half -- the halftime lead was 40-30 -- and couldn't put the game out of reach until Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs led a 16-2 run to begin the second half.

Dar Tucker scored 18 and Will Walker had 17 for DePaul, which has only four players averaging more than 4 points.

DePaul (8-19, 0-14 in Big East) had no answer for Blair in losing a school-record 14th in a row, getting outrebounded by nearly 2-to-1 at 49-25. The Blue Demons lost 13 in a row three times previously, including successive seasons in 1995-96 and 1996-97.

The Panthers, 17-0 at home this season, played much like they did in beating DePaul 92-69 two weeks before, when they also allowed the Blue Demons to hang around until taking command early in the second half. Blair had 32 points and 14 rebounds in that game.

"We won the opportunity to play Pitt twice," Wainwright said. "It's like two straight meals that my wife cooks. It looks good at the beginning, but it's difficult swallowing."

Young, who scored 16 points, started the second half with a 3-pointer and dunked off a Levance Fields pass. Biggs added 13 points, scoring three times during a run that put Pitt ahead 56-32.

Pittsburgh, which could move up at least No. 2 in next week's poll following losses by UConn and No. 3 North Carolina, plays at Providence and Seton Hall next week before closing the regular season against No. 10 Marquette and Connecticut at home the following week.

"They're a hard matchup for a lot of teams," Wainwright said.

The Panthers had little trouble against one of the nation's weakest major-conference schools despite making only 8 of 23 shots from 3-point range and shooting 44 percent (16-for-36) in the first half.

DePaul has lost its last eight games against Big East teams by an average of 20 points. The Blue Demons, who have played three Top 5 teams in the last four games, haven't had a single-digit loss since losing to Marquette 79-70 on Jan. 24.