Pittsburgh hasn’t had a close game yet this season, cruising to another undefeated start and the No. 3 ranking in the nation.
Vermont, however, hasn’t provided an easy game for anybody.
One of those things will change on Saturday, when the upset-minded Catamounts visit Pitt looking to prevent the Panthers from their seventh consecutive 9-0 start.
Forwards Sam Young and DeJuan Blair have spearheaded another strong beginning for Pitt (8-0), which has won each of its games by double digits and is averaging a 20.6-point margin of victory.
Young, a senior leading the team with 19.9 points per game, scored 23 on 9-of-14 shooting in the Panthers’ 78-51 win over intracity rival Duquesne on Wednesday, while Blair chipped in with 14 points and 17 rebounds.
Blair, a sophomore, has five double-doubles in seven games this season, and is averaging 13.0 rebounds to rank among the nation’s leaders. He also had five of Pitt’s 16 steals on Wednesday, as coach Jamie Dixon’s team continued its dominance defensively by holding the Dukes to 36.4 percent shooting.
That was actually the best mark of the Panthers’ last five opponents, who have shot a combined 33.7 percent. Visitors have averaged just 57.0 points during Pitt’s 34-game non-conference winning streak at the Petersen Events Center.
“It’s been really good so far (this season), but there’s always room for improvement,” Blair said of the team’s defense. “We work really hard on this team and pride ourselves on playing good defense.”
One thing the Panthers are looking to correct is their slow starts. They’ve held single-digit halftime leads in three of their last four games before pulling away, and Dixon said his team “played (Duquesne’s) game” in the first half.
“I’m not sure why we keep coming out kind of slow,” freshman guard Jermaine Dixon said. “… We have to make sure we start picking it up from the start though or that’s going to come back to bite us.”
They certainly don’t want to let Vermont hang around. The Catamounts (4-2) have yet to lose in regulation, with their only defeats coming in overtime against George Mason and Maryland.
Vermont, which has won three straight, is shooting 50.0 percent as a team, thanks in part to a 57.7 percent mark from leading scorer Marqus Blakely.
Blakely had a season-high 27 points on 11-of-13 shooting in the Catamounts’ 88-71 win over Dartmouth on Tuesday, also adding 11 rebounds before fouling out. Vermont coach Mike Lonergan is hoping his star will be able to stay out of foul trouble against the Panthers.
“He’s got to learn to make better decisions on the defensive end of the floor. He continues to get reach-in fouls,” Lonergan said. “We’re a much better team with him on the court.”
Against Dartmouth, senior Mike Trimboli added a season-high 23 points. Trimboli is 9-of-15 from 3-point range in his last four games.
Vermont’s program made a name for itself with an upset of a Big East team in 2005, when the Catamounts beat then-No. 11 Syracuse 60-57 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They also won at then-No. 14 Boston College 77-63 on Nov. 13, 2006.
But they’re 0-2 all-time against Pitt, including a 63-52 road loss on Dec. 17, 2005. Trimboli was just 1-of-7 on 3-pointers in that game.