Web Extra: Knocking Off Knight Key for Cal

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PITTSBURGH--His coach calls him Einstein.

His teammates call him the smartest point guard they've ever seen.

His opponents know he's one of the top players in the nation, an All-American who has led his team back to the NCAA Tournament after a nine year absence.

Pittsburgh's Brandin Knight is comfortable bringing his team back into the spotlight, but knows that it will take more than a one man show in tomorrow's game against sixth-seeded Cal to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

"Cal's defense can't just guard me," Knight said. "They've got to guard our whole team, just like we've got to guard their whole team."

Humility aside, stopping Knight is without question one of the biggest challenges the Bears (23-8) will face in their matchup with the Panthers (28-5), something Cal coach Ben Braun isn't denying.

"Guarding Knight will be the ultimate challenge for A.J. (Diggs) and Shantay (Legans)," he acknowledged.

Knight, the 2002 Big East Co-Player of the Year along with Connecticut's Caron Butler, enters the tournament averaging a team-high 15.6 points and 7.2 assists per game.

After injuring his quadricep muscle in Pittsburgh's double-overtime loss to Connecticut in the Big East tournament final last weekend, questions about Knight's health and his level of play were quite the hot topics.

But after his game-high 17-point performance in the Panthers' first-round game against Central Conneticut, there is little doubt that Knight has already recovered.

The junior guard's ability to tangle up opposing team's players--Knight averages 2.4 steals per game--is complimented by his uncanny floor vision and his ability to anticipate plays before they happen.

Staff/Ben Miller
Brandin Knight (#20) plays against Central Connecticut during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh.

"Brandin is a very smart player," teammate Julius Page said. "That's why the ball is in his hands so much. He makes great decisions and sees things other people don't see."

Page is certainly part of Knight's big picture. The sophomore is second on the team in scoring with 11.7 ppg and usually draws the assignment of guarding the opponent's top scoring threat.

This likely means that Page will have to contend with Cal's Joe Shipp or Brian Wethers in tomorrow's matchup.

The two wings led the team in scoring in the Bears' 82-75 win over Penn Friday and certainly appear to be peaking as the stakes have gotten higher.

"They are both so physical and so big," Panthers coach Ben Howland said. "They're 6-foot-5, 220, they can shoot, they can go off the dribble and they're very good at posting."

Just how effective Shipp and Wethers are inside will depend on how they negotiate some of Pitt's big bodies down low.

Players such as 6-foot-6, 265-pound Ontario Lett and 6-foot-7 236-pound Chevon Troutman pose formidable roadblocks for any player trying to make moves in the paint.

But where the Panthers have a size advantage, Cal boasts a decided height advantage.

Panthers forward Donatas Zavackas, who is third on the team in scoring with 11.6 ppg, is the tallest Pittsburgh player who sees substantial playing time; he checks in at 6-foot-8.

Compare that to Cal's Jamal Sampson and Solomon Hughes--both are listed at 6-foot-11--and the Panthers seem to be looking at the short end of the stick.

But the Pittsburgh players would say otherwise.

"I don't think their size will cause us any problems," senior Chad Johnson said. "Some shots are going to get blocked, some shots are going to get altered. But you can't let them stop you from going out and doing what you do every game to be effective."

Sampson and Hughes combined for six blocks in their last game against the Quakers and although the two big men do not always pose offensive threats, their ability to alter shots is something Braun wouldn't trade for more baskets.

"We use our height advantage to challenge our opponent's shooters," he said. "Would I like our guys to score more? Sure, but I'm more than happy with what they do on the other end of the floor."

Just as Cal has made a name for itself with aggressive defense and stifling pressure, Pittsburgh also prides itself on its ability to disrupt its opponent's rhythm.

The Panthers led the Big East in scoring defense, allowing just 61 ppg this season, and Pittsburgh is 15-1 when holding its opponent to less than 60 points.

Another factor that could take the Bears out of their comfort zone is the prospect of playing in front of a crowd comprised almost exclusively of Pittsburgh fans.

The NCAA Selection Committee stayed true to its plan to give top-seeds a chance to play close to home when it assigned the third-seed Panthers to Mellon Arena, smack dab in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh.

"I wish we could play the game today," Knight admitted. "I'm anxious, especially to play at home in front of all our fans. It'll be a treat."

Tomorrow's game will also be a chance for Knight to earn some respect from his big brother Brevin, a current member of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, who played at Stanford and graduated from there in 1997 before entering the pros.

"My brother thinks the Pac-10 is better than the Big East," Knight said. "I guess I'll have the chance to prove him wrong. I wish it was Stanford, but I guess Cal will do."

Whether Knight gets his chance to show up his brother or whether the Bears earn their first trip back to the Sweet Sixteen since 1997, tomorrow's game will not disappoint.

The Bears tip off against the Panthers tomorrow approximately a half hour after the South's first game between Cincinnati and UCLA, which tips off at 12:10 p.m. ET.


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