The last time DeJuan Blair played against one of the top centers in the Big East, he got the better of Georgetown's Roy Hibbert in a 69-60 Pitt victory at the Petersen Events Center. When Pitt travels to Notre Dame tomorrow night, Blair will get to test his skills against not only the top center in the conference but perhaps the top player.
- Who: Pitt at Notre Dame
- When: 7 p.m., Thursday
- TV: ESPN
Notre Dame sophomore Luke Harangody is the leading candidate for Big East player of the year and is being mentioned as a national player-of-the-year candidate. He is averaging 20.4 points per game, 23.1 in Big East games.
"I like to step up to challenges," Blair said after practice yesterday.
"I look [at] every game as a challenge, but this is a bigger challenge. It will be like Georgetown. It's going to be fun. I love it."
Blair practiced yesterday for the first time since spraining his left knee against Marquette but said he is definitely going to play against the Fighting Irish.
Blair has a history of knee injuries, having had major reconstructive surgery on both knees while at Schenley High School. And even though this sprain was a minor setback, he was worried during the Marquette game.
"If you saw the game, I went straight to the bench," he said. "I was a little nervous. I took a charge and his knee came to the side of it. It could have been worse. It was just a little sprain. If it's not torn, I'm not going to worry about it."Head to headHarangody vs. BlairSophYearFresh28.5Minutes26.020.4Points11.610.3Rebounds9.41.8Assists0.90.5Blocks1.20.9Steals1.9
Blair will need to be at full strength to deal with Harangody, who has been a dominating force throughout the Big East. In the past few weeks, Harangody has scored 32 points against Connecticut, 29 against DePaul and 31 against Providence.
"He's really an interesting player," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He does some things that are unconventional in the post, the way he plays offensively and defensively. He can score facing the basket and on the block. He uses his quick feet. He's similar to DeJuan in a lot of ways. He's improved since he was a freshman, and we'll see the same kind of improvements in DeJuan [next season]. He's a guy to emulate because of his improvement."
Blair and Harangody are similar in stature. Blair is 6 feet 7 inches and weighs 265 pounds. Harangody is 6-8, 251. Harangody averaged 11.2 points per game last season, right around where Blair, a freshman, is this season.
In addition to his scoring, Harangody is second in the Big East in rebounding with 10.3 per game. Blair is third with 9.4 per game.
"Harangody is good, he's tough and he plays hard," Dixon said.
Harangody has transformed the Irish from a finesse 3-point shooting team to a rugged team that is similar to Pitt in many ways. The Irish lead the league in rebounding margin and have dominated their opponents in that category.
Blair had 15 points and nine rebounds against Hibbert more than a month ago but has been inconsistent since the Georgetown game.
Blair scored seven points Feb. 7 against West Virginia and had six Friday against Marquette, his lowest output since he scored four Jan. 19 against Cincinnati.
Blair's up-and-down play has prompted speculation that he has become worn down by the long college season.
"A lot of people are saying I've hit a wall because I haven't had any double-doubles in a while," he said. "That's nothing big. I'm trying to get back to that. But I'm worried about winning. I don't care if I score.
"As long as I play defense and get rebounds, we have enough players who can score. I just go out there and rebound and play defense."
Senior guard Ronald Ramon said Blair is going through something all freshmen encounter their first season.
"It's a period of time where everyone on the team has to come together," he said.
"We have all the confidence in the world in DeJuan. He's going to play his best games coming up. Everyone has to go out there and execute and make sure we concentrate on defense."
• • •
NOTES -- Junior point guard Levance Fields did not practice yesterday, but he is expected to play against Notre Dame. Fields had an X-ray of his left foot taken yesterday that showed the previously fractured bone was not reinjured during the Marquette game. "It'll always been up in the air," Dixon said of Fields' status. "It's not so much the bone. Other things come with not playing. It's a normal thing. There will be soreness and discomfort. He felt soreness, but not on the bone. As the game went on and afterward it was far more painful to him. We saw the X-ray and he felt a lot better knowing that the bone is healing."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.