Even without one of its top three stars in the lineup, Pittsburgh is still a Top 25-caliber team. With all of them on the court, there’s no telling how good the Panthers can be.
Back at full force, the No. 4 Panthers try for their first tournament title of the season when they face fellow unbeaten Washington State on Saturday night in the championship game of the Legends Classic in New Jersey.
With 6-foot-7 sophomore DeJuan Blair out due to a sore right knee, Pittsburgh (6-0) still had little trouble in a 74-60 win over Belmont on Tuesday. With their key post presence back in the lineup to face a much tougher opponent, the Panthers cruised to an 80-67 victory over Texas Tech in a Legends semifinal on Friday.
Senior forward Sam Young scored 24 points and Blair added 15 points and 11 rebounds as Pitt scored the first 20 points of the game and led 45-17 at halftime. Young had strong support from Blair and 6-8 senior Tyrell Biggs as the Panthers outscored the Red Raiders 40-14 in the paint.
“We run a lot of things for Sam and we’re getting him shots.” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “His teammates also made good decisions trying to find him. It’s very important for us to get him going every game.”
Young, the team’s leading scorer at 20.1 points per game, has combined for 57 in his last two contests. With his production combined with Blair and healthy senior guard Levance Fields, Pitt is poised to improve on last season, when it went 27-10 and lost to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Though they have yet to be seriously tested, the Panthers could be in for a challenge in their first meeting with Washington State (5-0) team allowing 41.2 points per game - the stingiest such average in the nation.
With two starters and its top reserve back from last season’s team that finished 26-9 and reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament, Washington State has been solid overall thus far and enters the championship game after defeating Mississippi State 63-52 on Friday.
Freshman Klay Thompson scored 19 points with 10 rebounds and Aron Baynes added 17 points for the Cougars, who are trying to open with six straight wins for a third consecutive season.
Washington State shot only 43.1 percent Friday, but held the Bulldogs to 32.6 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers.
The 6-6 Thompson is averaging a team-high 13.6 points on the season and 17.0 in his last three games.
While Washington State looks to extend its regular-season non-conference winning streak to 22 games, the Cougars are 0-20 against opponents ranked in the top five since the start of the 1996-97 season.