After finishing the regular season winless in conference play, the Pitt women’s basketball… After finishing the regular season winless in conference play, the Pitt women’s basketball team will have the chance to pick up its first Big East win in the conference tournament on Friday.
The No. 16 seed, the Panthers will face off against No. 9-seed South Florida, who defeated Pitt 62-60 on Feb. 18. Pitt kept that game close early, trailing by just two points, 31-29, at halftime.
For the Panthers to have a chance, Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato said she knows they have to avoid another second half drop-off.
“We can’t run out of gas,” Berenato said.
Redshirt sophomore Ashlee Anderson said a large part of the team’s ability to stay with the Bulls in the first half stemmed from the Panthers’ defensive pressure, which resulted in South Florida turnovers. The Bulls turned the ball over 17 times during the game.
Anderson said she’s confident entering the game because the Panthers competed so well in the first half. But Pitt will travel to Hartford, Conn. — the site of the Big East tournament — coming off two defeats during which the team didn’t perform well offensively.
In both defeats, Pitt had just one player score double figures. Anderson scored 11 points against Seton Hall and Brianna Kiesel put up 21 points against West Virginia.
Berenato said she knows that more players need to perform well for the team to have a chance, adding that the way to stop the scoreless stretches that have plagued the team recently is for one player to take initiative.
“Someone has to say, ‘Give me the ball and I’m scoring,’” she said. “Someone has to step up and be a leader.”
She went on to say that ideally, the team needs four starters in double figures, but that collective output hasn’t happened as players have performed well at different times.
Berenato said that pattern is inevitable with young players.
“One day they’re up and one day they’re down,” Berenato said. “That’ll happen with freshmen or kids that have never played, and these kids have never played.”
Foul trouble has hurt the Panthers in the last two games as well, but Anderson views that issue as a sign of the team’s aggression.
“At this point [in the season], you can’t really focus on whether you’re going to foul or not because you don’t want to not be aggressive,” she said.
“We’re trying to be aggressive to pull out the stops to get a win,” she said.
A win in the Big East tournament could help the Panthers build momentum for next season.
“It’s huge for us to try to get a W and go into next year on something good,” Berenato said.
Friday’s game will also serve as a test of the team’s maturity.
“This game will be a test to see how far we’ve come since the start of the season,” Anderson said.
South Florida boasts two players who average double figures: Jasmine Wynne with 15.6 points per game and Inga Orekhova with 12.5 points per game. Pitt’s defense, which on average allows 69.5 points a game, will need to rise to the occasion.
Anderson and redshirt sophomore Leeza Burdgess, the oldest players on Pitt’s young team, said they think the freshmen will elevate their play despite being on such a big stage for the first time.
“They’re just going to enjoy themselves,” Burdgess said. “It’s so fun.”
Anderson said she expects many of the younger players will be used to the situation because they played in state playoffs and championships in high school.
The team can send a statement with a victory, and Burdgess knows it.
“This is a great opportunity for us to show everybody, even though we’ve struggled this year, that we’re a force to be reckoned with, especially for next year,” she said.