PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said he knew for sure on Tuesday morning his best post player, offensively and defensively, wouldn’t play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He had to turn to a pair of freshmen, twins, against the SEC’s leading rebounder in Pitt’s first NCAA game in seven years.
Guillermo and Jorge Diaz Graham are a combined 14 feet in length, but only 400 total pounds and they were going up against a man in 6’11”, redshirt senior Tolu Smith, averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said Pitt guard Jamarius Burton. “They have an all-SEC player in the paint. We knew we were going to have to have G’s back in that regard. He fought and we continued to have his back throughout the game.”
Guillermo found out during shootaround he would start. He said he just had to do what he could to step in and help. He would play a career-high 37 minutes finishing with only three points, but the five rebounds and a couple of blocks were key. He, his brother and the Pitt defense held Smith, who went for 27 points against TCU, to 13 points and 8 rebounds.
“For a freshman to step up on this stage and to play like he did, five rebounds, two blocks, his ball screen defense at the end, for the last, I'd say, about eight
minutes, we tried to trap every ball screen with the 5,” Capel said. “And for him to be able to do that and get back in there and to fight and to battle, this is the most minutes he's played all year, and just really, really happy for him.”
“Man, I'm exhausted,” Guillermo Diaz Graham said. “That was a hell of a fight. He's a really good player, and he was trying to attack me every time. Of course he's bigger than me. Just fighting, he's bigger than me but I'm going to fight more than you. It's exhausting, but we won, so it was worth it.”
“It was rough,” said Jorge Diaz Graham. “They have big guys, much heavier than me and my brother. It was a physical fight, but it was also a mental fight because being pushed around so hard it affects you mentally. You feel weak. You have to overcome that. You have to keep fighting, all 40 minutes you have to fight. My brother did that for sure and I did too.”
“I think we did a good job the whole game. I think we did a great job of containing them and I’m just so happy we held on to win.”
“They are really good players,” said Pitt senior Nike Sibande. “They are really talented. I told them this is what you come across the water for. This is what you do it for, right here in this moment. They capitalized on it. We are going to continue to build and utilize them for sure. They are tall, talented, they got it all.”
The defining play came with just seconds left as Smith drove the lane, but Guillermo got his body in front and then used his left hand to block it out of bounds.
“He came right at me,” Guillermo Diaz Graham said. “I knew he was going to shoot it because, I knew it. I pulled the block with the left hand and all the energy came out in that scream.”
There was more feeling right after when his brother Jorge embraced him. That started the tears.
“As soon as he hugged me all of the emotions from the game, they just came out of my body,” Guillermo Diaz Graham said. “I couldn’t control it.”
“The whole game was up one, down one. At the end we knew we needed a stop. A stop equaled a win. It’s a constant fight. It’s a dog fight. It’s about who wants it bad. At the end they had a chance with the tap in and it didn’t go in.”
Without ever watching the NCAA Tournament before last year, the twins from the Canary Islands became a big part of the first day of March Madness
“I think the people of Pittsburgh deserve this,” Guillermo Diaz Graham said. “They're really great. They come all the way here to support us, and I feel like they deserve this feeling again.”
Capel said they are ‘very, very hopeful’ to get Federiko Federiko back against Iowa State on Friday. If not, they’ll be asking for these two brothers to step up again.