And it's that gift that helped DeJuan Blair record his seventh double-double this season to lead third-ranked Pittsburgh to a 79-66 win against Siena Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center.
"You could coach guys all year long, every day, and they're not going to have the tools that he has,'' Dixon said. "(Blair) has the size, the width, the length of his arms, the hands, tenacity. He's in better shape and has a better body now.
"He's gotten better. He keeps the ball up when he gets rebounds now, and he's able to finish. He doesn't quick shoot like he did a lot last year. ... He gets his balance and goes up strong, and that's what we've worked on with him.''
Blair was 10-for-14 from the field, tallied 21 points and 16 rebounds with eight at each end. Pitt (11-0 for the second straight season) out-rebounded the Saints (5-4) 47-36, but they had just 13 offensive boards to Blair's eight there. Blair also had three assists, a blocked shot and a turnover in 30 minutes.
"I thought that, based on watching them on film, that this Pitt team was the best team on our schedule,'' Siena coach Fran McCaffery said. "And I thought we competed fairly well, but they just have so many weapons. Obviously, we were concerned about Blair, and he's one of the best post players I've seen in my time in college basketball, which is extensive.
"He can hurt you in so many ways. On the nights when they're not shooting the ball well, which was tonight, he still makes sure you get home (win) because he gets it back. It seemed like he got the rebound on every missed free throw, and we work on that. ... He's got phenomenal hands. This is a very good team that we played, and I would not be surprised to see them in the Final Four.''
With senior point guard Levance Fields leading the way, Pitt recorded assists on 25 of its 30 baskets. Fields tallied six with 11 points and no turnovers. Junior Jermaine Dixon added five assists with one turnover, but he still clanked both 3-point attempts. In fact, the Panthers were horrendous from long range, 3-for-15, even though 6-foot-8 power forward Tyrell Biggs was 2-for-2.
Sam Young and Biggs had 14 points each, but Young shot just 6-for-15 from the field. He had four rebounds and four turnovers (but Pitt had just seven overall, even though Siena pressed nearly the entire game) in 30 minutes. Biggs added six rebounds, but he doesn't hit the boards like Blair.
"I feel like every game I'm going to have some success, but this time I started a little slow,'' Blair said. "But I'm going to keep fighting and do what I do, and I think I did a good job on the rebounds and with my defense.''
The Panthers really kicked it up a notch in the second half after Siena cut a 14-point deficit to a 37-29 Pitt lead at halftime with a pair of 3-pointers during the final minute. The Panthers opened the second half with a 16-3 run to lead 53-32 with less than seven minutes elapsed.
Pitt had four of its six steals during that stretch, but Blair's rebounding was crucial in leading the Panthers on fastbreaks as well.
"Coach gave us a talk at halftime, and we just came out and responded,'' Blair said. "We just kept playing (hard). I know they got some open shots at the end of the first half, but we came out aggressive in the second half. ... So, we just have to keep doing that, and if we keep playing as a team we'll get where we want to go. (But) this was a good learning experience.''
Coach Jamie Dixon agreed with Blair's final assessment.
"I think this game will be good for us, because we didn't play our best game,'' Dixon said. "I think our guys understand that, and I believe they'll learn from it.''
Freshman Travon Woodall was the odd-man out for Pitt. Only seven Panthers played 19 minutes or more. Freshman guard Ashton Gibbs (nine minutes), sophomore center Gary McGhee (six) and freshman forward Nasir Robinson (two) also played.
The top seven were Blair, Young, Biggs, Fields and Dixon as the starters, redshirt sophomore forward Gilbert Brown was the first off the bench with sophomore guard Bradley Wanamaker.
Clarence Jackson and Edwin Ubiles led Siena with 12 points each, while Kyle Downey had 11 for the Saints.
Pitt ends its non-conference schedule at Florida State Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in a national FSN telecast.
No. 3 Pitt 79, Siena 66
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