Pitt Goes After Irish Win Streak

The Pitt men's basketball team hasn't won three straight games since mid-January, but freshman center DeJuan Blair believed that the Panthers were ready to get on a roll with the season in the homestretch.

That's going to be easier said than done, as Pittsburgh (19-6, 7-5) visits No. 21 Notre Dame (19-5, 9-3) tonight at 7 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Ind. and plays host to No. 18 Louisville (21-6, 11-3) Sunday at noon.

The Fighting Irish have a 34-game home winning streak.

"Obviously, they haven't lost at home in a long time, so we have to try to stop that,'' DeJuan Blair said. "And we just have to try to have more energy that them. That's what we've got to do on the road, have more energy than the home team. And we have to worry about our defense. The offense will come.

"All we've got to do is play defense. I think it's going to come together. This is our time. We're about to get into the Big East (Tournament), March Madness, so we're coming together as a team and starting to get focused for that. We're having better practices now, and the coaches are pushing us real. So, I think we're ready to put it all together and get on a roll for the postseason.''

While Pitt struggled at both ends of the court in a lopsided loss at Marquette last Friday night, Blair's play has been especially inconsistent. It appeared that the 6-foot-7 frosh finally hit a wall after a strong first half in his rookie year.

"Everybody goes through this,'' senior guard Ronald Ramon said. "I did it when I was a freshman, and now he's going through it. It's just a period of time when everybody else has to come together to get the job done. We have confidence in DeJuan, that he'll step it up and play his best games now.

"We need him to play well down the stretch. Everybody else has to do it, too. And he loves these types of matchups, against the biggest and toughest players, so I expect him to play real well against Notre Dame. It'll be a big challenge, but we need strong team defense to be successful.''

If Blair's previous performances against other big men on Pitt's schedule is an indication, he should have a strong showing against Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. The 6-8 sophomore plays nearly 29 minutes per game, averages 20.4 points and 10.3 rebounds each contest. Kyle McAlarney and Bob Kurz are the other top Irish scorers at 15.1 and 12.3 points per game, respectively.

"Harangody's a good player,'' Blair said. "I like to step up to challenges like this. I look at every game as a challenge, but this is a bigger one. Like Georgetown (7-footer Roy Hibbert), so it's going to be fun. I love it. I think a lot of people are saying I hit a wall because I didn't have a double-double in a while. But I'm trying to get back to that.

"I'm worried more about us winning. As long as we win, I don't care if I score. Just as long as I play defense and get the rebounds, that's what we need me to do. We've got enough players to score points. So, as long as we win, I'm not worried about the points. I'm not the type of person to worry about that.''

Blair had 16 points and 14 rebounds against Washington's Jon Brockman and came back with 15 points and 20 rebounds against Kyle Singler and Duke. He tallied 15 points and nine rebounds against Hibbert and another double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut's HasheemThabeet. But Harangody should be Blair's stiffest test.

"(Harangody's) good,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He's tough. He plays hard. He's really an interesting player. He does some things that are unconventional in the post in how he plays offensively and defensively. He can score facing, and he can score on the block, and he uses his quick feet to score. He's similar to DeJuan in a lot of ways.

"I think Harangody's improved since last year as a freshman, and I think we'll see the same type of improvements from DeJuan next year. (But) Notre Dame is a very good team, a very experienced team, with all eight guys coming back from last season. They're defending better, and I think they're rebounding better. They shoot the ball well and have played very well.''

Pitt and Notre Dame haven't played for two years, but the Panthers have won five straight, including the last outing 100-97 in double-overtime Jan. 4, 2006, at the Petersen Events Center.

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