Pitt 80, DePaul 61

As he trudged into the interview room, Jerry Wainwright lamented his poor luck, and who could argue with the affable DePaul men's basketball coach.

Wainwright didn't win the lottery, and his Blue Demons had the unenviable task to play Pittsburgh for the second time in two weeks.

DePaul didn't fare too well in either matchup, losing 80-61 Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center, but Wainwright tried to remain positive.

"You can tell that I don't buy lottery tickets, because I don't win much,'' Wainwright said. "But we won the opportunity to play Pitt twice, and that's like two straight meals that my wife cooks. It looks good in the beginning, but in the end it's difficult to swallow. No, she's a lovely girl, but she obviously isn't here.

"I certainly hope I live to see the lessons learned by our young guys, and we play a lot of young guys. (But) I've really enjoyed watching the Pitt players grow up, Sam, Tyrell, Levance and DeJuan Blair, he's already a man. DeJuan's a special kid and a local kid, so what a great situation that is for Pitt.''

Simply put, DePaul -- now 8-19 overall and 0-14 in the Big East with 14 straight losses overall -- did not have anyone who could handle Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair. Few do, but Blair was particularly dominant in a short time. Blair muscled his way to 16 points and 16 rebounds in 14 minutes during the FIRST HALF and finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds in just 23 minutes overall.

"I realized what I had at halftime, but 20 points and 18 rebounds in 23 minutes is still pretty good,'' Blair understated. "And everybody got to play, so that's a good thing.''

Blair, averaging 20 points during a seven-game Pitt winning streak, followed his dominating 22-point, 23-rebound effort in Pitt's 76-68 win at No. 1 Connecticut Monday with a similar can't-be-stopped performance to set the Panthers' rebounding mark held by former NBA player Jerome Lane (38).

The 6-foot-7 Blair slowed his rebounding pace in the second half, mostly because the Panthers (25-2, 12-2 in Big East) didn't miss as many shots. He had 10 offensive rebounds among his total boards.

"We felt like we could go inside and hurt them inside,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "And we were able to do that and take care of business.''

Pitt opened a 21-10 lead, but didn't expand on it during the rest of the first half, as the halftime lead was 40-30, and the Panthers couldn't put the game out of reach until senior forwards Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs led a 16-2 run to begin the second half.

"Coach Dixon talked about it with us in the locker room before the game,'' Biggs said. "We wanted to come out strong, because we didn't do that the last time we played them. We did all right tonight, but we usually play better in the second half. And we definitely did that.''

Young tallied tallied 16 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes, while Biggs finally is healthy again and added 13 points and five boards in 23 minutes. Pitt out-rebounded DePaul 49-25, as the Blue Demons had just five offensive boards. Their 14 straight losses are a school record. DePaul lost 13 straight three times previously, including in successive seasons (1995-96 and 1996-97).

The Panthers, 17-0 at home this season, played much like they did in beating DePaul 92-69 two weeks ago when they also allowed the Blue Demons to hang around until early in the second half before taking command. Blair had 32 points and 14 rebounds in that game.

Young started the second half with a 3-pointer and dunked off pass from senior point guard Levance Fields, while Biggs scored three times during a run that put Pitt ahead 56-32. Fields, who leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ration and is second in assists, tallied six helpers with no turnovers against DePaul.

"Pitt's going to be a hard matchup for a lot of teams,'' Wainwright said. "They're going to be very good come tournament time, and they have a really good chance to go as far as anybody in the country. ... And Fields will lead them. He's a consummate field general. He keeps everybody in line and settles them down. I've seen a lot of good guards here, (and) he's right with them.''

The Panthers had little trouble against one of the nation's weakest major-conference schools despite making only 8 of 23 shots from 3-point range and shooting 44 percent (16-for-36) in the first half.

Dar Tucker scored 18 and Will Walker had 17 for DePaul, which has only four players averaging more than 4 points per game, has no seniors and has lost its last eight games against Big East teams by an average of 20 points. The Blue Demons, who have played three Top 5 teams in the last four games, haven't had a single-digit loss since losing to Marquette 79-70 Jan. 24. They have not yet won a game in 2009.

Pitt, which should move up to No. 1 in Monday's polls following losses by UConn, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 North Carolina, plays at Providence Tuesday and Seton Hall Saturday before closing the regular season against No. 10 Marquette (March 4) and Connecticut (March 7) at home.

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