Blair National Player Of Year Finalist

Pitt sophomore DeJuan Blair

Center DeJuan Blair never figured that his baking skills would come in handy for more than just satisfying a teammate's sweet tooth.

During a discussion Thursday about his relationship with area officials and foul calls on him, Pittsburgh sophomore DeJuan Blair pondered the affect a tray of baked goods could have on his situation.

"I don't know, I think Calhoun got in their heads a little bit,'' Blair said, referring to Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun's post-game rant about Blair's physicality being better-suited for the NBA. "So, I don't know, but I think it's going to be interesting the rest of the year. But I'm going to have to just keep playing.

"I can't worry about the officials. Of course, you think about it when you're on the court, but I just try to smile and laugh about it with them. All that smiling and laughing, and they still make the same calls. Maybe I'll have to bring in some cupcakes and cookies or something like that.''

While Blair's work in the kitchen might be solid, his performance on the court has gotten the most publicity in recent weeks, and it paid off with Blair being named among the 15 finalists for the 2009 Oscar Robertson Trophy by the U.S. Basketball Writers' Association as the national player of the year.

The presentation of this year's award will take place April 3 at the USBWA's annual awards breakfast at the downtown Detroit Athletic Club in conjunction with the Men's Final Four. The breakfast will also honor the winner of the Henry Iba Award, the association's coach of the year, as well as the 1979 Michigan State national championship team that was led by Earvin "Magic'' Johnson.

The Oscar Robertson Trophy is voted on by the entire membership of the association, which consists of nearly 800 journalists. The ballot will be distributed to the membership Monday.

Along with Blair, the finalists are Sherron Collins, Kansas (5-11, 200, Jr., Chicago, Ill.); Dante Cunningham, Villanova (6-8, 230, Sr., Silver Spring, Md.); Stephen Curry, Davidson (6-3, 185, Jr., Charlotte, N.C.); Tyreke Evans, Memphis (6-6, 219, Fr., Chester, Pa.); Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (6-10, 251, Soph., Oklahoma City, Okla.); Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (6-9, 250, Sr., Poplar Bluff, Mo.); Luke Harangody, Notre Dame (6-8, 255, Jr., Schererville, Ind.); James Harden, Arizona State (6-5, 218, Soph., Los Angeles, Calif.); Ty Lawson, North Carolina (5-11, 195, Jr., Clinton, Md.); Jerel McNeal, Marquette (6-3, 200, Sr., Chicago, Ill.); Jodie Meeks, Kentucky (6-4, 208, Jr., Norcross, Ga.); Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut (7-3, 263, Jr., Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania); Jeff Teague, Wake Forest (6-2, 180, Soph., Indianapolis, Ind.) and Evan Turner, Ohio State (6-7, 205, Soph., Chicago, Ill.)

Hansbrough, among three senior finalists, was the 2008 Oscar Robertson Trophy winner. No player has won back-to-back USBWA Player of the Year awards since Virginia's Ralph Sampson won three straight from 1981-83.

Pitt has three games remaining in the regular season, and Blair believed that the Panthers would proceed full steam ahead.

"We just have to worry about the future,'' Blair said. "We can put this loss behind us. We just have to keep playing and hope and wish other teams lose and we keep winning. Then, we'll see how it is at the end. Providence caught us off-guard, but we just weren't Pitt that day. And it showed.

"The outcome showed, so we just have to come in and take every game like it's our last. And if we do that, then we'll be good. It was a huge wake-up call, and we don't want to let anymore slip away from us. We just have to try to forget that game, and defense was our focus in practice (Thursday).

"Coach talks about how a team can hit the wall, but he's going to keep us from doing that,'' Blair added. "So, we just have to keep playing Pitt ball, because that's not what we played the other day at Providence. So, we just have to stay focused and be the team that we are, and we'll be good.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted that whatever the outcome, it isn't likely that the referees will play a role.

"We didn't get any fouls in the next game, and we didn't get in foul trouble in the last game,'' Dixon said. "So, I think it's just part of being from Pittsburgh and part of having a winning record. We have the best record in the Big East over past eight years, so things are going to be said.

"It is what it is, but I think it's a way of motivating. We didn't lose the last game because of fouls. We just didn't play well. ... I don't know what the referees are thinking. They're going to make questionable calls. It's not an easy job. (So), you're going to have calls where coaches and referees disagree.

"It's just part of the game,'' Dixon added. "But we didn't have this conversation after we got 25 wins. So, we're playing on Saturday, and we're going to be focused on what we've got to do to get ready for Seton Hall.''

Pitt faces Seton Hall Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. and then closes the regular season with home games against Marquette Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Connecticut March 7 at noon at the Petersen Events Center.

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