Pittsburgh Panthers senior forward Talib Zanna has picked the perfect time to play the best basketball of his career, and his 19 points and 21 rebounds led Pitt to a solid victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels, 80-75, in the ACC tournament quarterfinals on Friday.
Zanna was relentless and unforgiving on the glass from the tip as he threw Tar Heels around like rag-dolls to grab boards and score on put backs. Zanna’s scoring mostly came within two feet, as North Carolina could not find an answer for the Pittsburgh big man. His effort clearly rubbed off on his teammates. James Robinson, who had a disappointing regular season, found his scoring touch with 19 points. Robinson was a skittish player during the year, but went at the defense with much more confidence. His play will be crucial not only against the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday, but in the NCAA tournament. If Robinson turns into an attacking guard, he will free up Lamar Patterson for easier baskets.
Still, it was Zanna’s game from beginning to end. In a game where fouls were called on nearly every touch, he was able to move his body around to be at the right place at the right time. Zanna dominated the smaller Brice Johnson and was quicker to the ball than Kennedy Meeks and Joel James.
Zanna has turned his game up a lot in the last few games and while he is not much of a threat outside of five feet, he can dominate the post.
Virginia will give Pitt and Zanna a nice look of what a balanced offensive and defensive team can do against the Panthers. Pittsburgh is healing up and playing its best basketball of the season. The semifinal game is a not a must-win by any means, but it should be a must-play-well game.
Pittsburgh is playing great basketball now, and if Zanna and Robinson continue to play at their current levels, the Panthers will be a team no high seed wants to see in the NCAA tourney.