Taylor Ready To Take Next Step

Pitt's core group basically has taken turns coming through with clutch performances throughout this season, but the Panthers will need more to make lengthy runs in the Big East Tournament this week and the ensuing NCAA Tournament games.

Freshman center Dante Taylor could provide that additional scoring for Pittsburgh if his final regular-season game is an indication.

Taylor tallied 11 points and seven rebounds against Rutgers, including six at the offensive end, on 5-for-8 shooting from the field and 1-for-3 attempts from the free-throw line. Taylor played 16 minutes against the Scarlet Knights.

"It felt real good to get back into scoring in double figures, but I just try to come out and play hard in every game,'' Taylor said. "I had to get my confidence back, so I just wanted to be aggressive.

"I'm not sure when it was exactly when it started to come back, but against Marquette when I got those three dunks I knew things were getting better. And I just wanted to keep being aggressive to keep it up.

"I pretty much felt like things weren't going my way, and my confidence was down after I didn't score a few games in a row,'' Taylor added. "I still tried to come out and play hard, and it seems to be coming together for me now.''

During Pitt's 58-51 win against Marquette Feb. 18 in Milwaukee, Wisc., Taylor played just eight minutes. However, he hammered down three dunks and added two rebounds, an assist and a steal. With junior center Gary McGhee's 5-for-5 performance from the field, the Panthers' centers were perfect on the night.

"I think both Dante and me need to keep it up at the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs,'' McGhee said. "We need to really hit the boards and take advantage when we get the ball in deep. Dante, I think he's shown a lot of improvement this season. He's looking a lot better lately, and I think he'll continue to improve.''

Taylor believed he was too much for the Rutgers big men to handle, but that hasn't been the case all season. Taylor has appeared to be overmatched, at times, and just plain lost on other occasions.

"When I came into the game, I noticed that it was easy for me to box them out because I was a little quicker than the Rutgers inside guys,'' Taylor said. "I thought they would try to do more down low, but I was able to be aggressive and get some rebounds for us. I think I played all right.

"That's why I'm really looking forward to the Big East Tournament. It's my first one, and I want to help my team come away with a championship. I need to keep hitting the boards hard, play aggressive defense and score as much as possible. So, as a young guy, I'm really looking forward to it.''

Some believe Pitt coach Jamie Dixon did Taylor a disservice by playing him at the five spot this season, as the 6-foot-9, 240-pound athlete primarily played the four in high school. And he was not nearly well-conditioned or strong enough to handle the Panthers' non-conference opponents let alone its Big East competition.

However, hard work and a late-season confidence boost were just what Taylor needed to succeed.

"I just think he's getting better, and he's playing better,'' Dixon said. "But all of them are playing better. J.J. (Richardson) is playing better, too, and that's what we try to do. It all happens for us in practice, and we have 15 guys out there working hard to help each other improve.

"Dante seems to be a lot more comfortable in there now, and he's been working very hard in practice to get there. Our practices are very competitive, and we're getting a lot done. So, that's what I want to continue to do during the time we have before we play again. And Dante will be a big part of that.''

And Taylor could be a big part of Pitt's success moving forward as well.

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