After another overpowering performance from its star center, it appears Pittsburgh will go as far as DeJuan Blair can carry the team.
Blair looks to continue his torrid stretch and help the fourth-ranked Panthers win their fourth consecutive game on Monday when they try to finish a season sweep of West Virginia.
Pittsburgh (21-2, 8-2 Big East) is considered a national title contender, and with the way Blair has been playing lately, it’s no surprise.
Blair scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Saturday’s 92-69 victory over DePaul. He hit 14 of 23 shots while turning in his 15th double-double to impress Blue Demons coach Jerry Wainwright.
“He’s not as athletic as Charles Barkley, but he’s certainly bigger,” Wainwright said of Blair. “Their hips are right up to here on you and they just don’t give up space.”
Blair has been instrumental in helping the Panthers score at least 92 points in winning each of their last three games, as he’s averaging 24.3 points on 61.5 percent shooting and 14.7 rebounds in those contests.
“This is the best I’ve been playing,” he said. “I’m going to try to keep it going.”
While Blair has been outstanding lately, he has struggled in Pitt’s two losses. He had seven points, eight rebounds and four fouls in a 67-57 loss at then-No. 21 Villanova on Jan. 28 and finished with nine points and 10 boards before fouling out in a 69-63 loss at No. 20 Louisville on Jan. 17.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound center is averaging 18.6 points and 13.9 boards in Pitt’s eight Big East victories, and finished with 16 points and 11 boards in a 79-67 win at West Virginia (16-7, 5-5) on Jan. 25.
Panthers forward Sam Young led Pitt in the victory over the Mountaineers, scoring 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Young, who averages a team-high 17.8 points, had 10 points and a season-high 10 rebounds against the Blue Demons as Blair carried the offense.
Levance Fields also had a stellar performance in Saturday’s victory, finishing with 13 points and a career-high 16 assists. Fields, who is averaging 14.0 points and 12.0 assists in his last three games, had 13 points and five assists against West Virginia two weeks ago.
The Mountaineers defeated Providence 86-59 on Saturday after losing at then-No. 20 Syracuse and No. 7 Louisville in their previous two games. West Virginia is 2-6 against ranked opponents this season, including its loss to Pitt when it was ranked fourth.
“As of right now we are ninth in our league and that’s not good enough,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins told the school’s official athletic Web site. “We have got to win some games here and make a move here in the second half of the conference schedule.”
On Saturday, Alex Ruoff led West Virginia with 24 points on 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Ruoff, who had 16 points on 2-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc in the loss to Pitt, was just 9-of-35 from 3-point range in his previous five games.
Junior forward Da’Sean Butler averages a team-high 17.8 points, and scored 21 against the Panthers two weeks ago.
The Mountaineers have lost three of their last four road games, and have lost three straight games at Pitt.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have won all 14 home games this season, and are 110-10 all-time the Petersen Events Center.