Women’s Basketball: Panthers hope to bounce back in Backyard Brawl

Jasper Wilson | January 19, 2012    

The Pitt women’s basketball team is ready to put its record-setting loss to No. 2 Notre Dame… The Pitt women’s basketball team is ready to put its record-setting loss to No. 2 Notre Dame behind it and focus on facing off against West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl on Saturday.

The Panthers (8-11, 0-6 Big East) suffered their worst loss in history against the Fighting Irish, falling 120-44, but Pitt will focus on the present when it tips off with the Mountaineers (13-5, 3-2 Big East) at 2 p.m.

Redshirt sophomore Abby Dowd will get the chance to play in the rivalry game for the first time.

“I think this game is gonna be about heart for either team,” Dowd said. “Whoever wants it more is going to win.

From the rest of the season here on out, it’s about heart. It’s the Backyard Brawl. For me this is extremely exciting. I remember last year when the girls went to West Virginia and beat them there. It was so big.”

Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato said that Tuesday’s loss to the Fighting Irish was the toughest game she’s coached.

“I feel we’re really, really learning,” Berenato said. “[The players] didn’t get the win because they don’t know how to get the win yet. They have to experience it. This team is a team that’s learning everyday.”

Pitt’s tipoff with West Virginia takes place in the middle of ESPN College GameDay, and the Panthers will also host Girl Scout Day.

But Berenato said she doesn’t want her players to get distracted by external factors. She wants them to focus on the task at hand.

“Don’t get caught up in the hype,” she said. “For us it’s about getting better. No hype, no anything. It’s about us getting better. The main thing right now is us and getting better.”

Still, she added that she’s looking forward to the atmosphere the Girl Scouts and students will create.

“I know we’re probably gonna have 1,200 to 1,500 Girl Scouts here,” Berenato said. “I’m excited about that. Their tone … is absolutely crazy and wonderful. They scream. They yell. I’m excited.”

Dowd said the team is focused on the game.

“We have West Virginia on Saturday. That’s what we need to focus on at this point, and that’s what we’re focusing on more than anything,” she said.

Dowd, who transferred from Buffalo, said she didn’t really comprehend the intensity of the rivalry before she arrived at Pitt.

“I knew about it, but you don’t get it until you really play,” she said. “You can understand that it’s a big competition, but now that [I’m] playing it’s just so much more magnified.”

Redshirt sophomore Ashlee Anderson said the Panthers needs to take the initiative against the Mountaineers.

“One of the things the coaches stress to me is to be aggressive and stay aggressive on offense,” Anderson said. “We have to play on our game. DePaul was a running team. Our best offense is transition. If we can push the ball up and can get rebounds and push the ball out, we’ll be successful.”

Pitt lost at DePaul by just three points, 86-83.

Anderson, who is in her third year at Pitt, said that she appreciates the meaning of the Brawl.

“You get pumped for that game because it’s bragging rights because they’re right up the street basically,” she said. “You get a little more pep in your step. You get fired up.”

Pitt has the league’s worst defense — allowing 71.3 points a game — while West Virginia has the second-best defense in the Big East, giving up 49.5 points per game.

The Mountaineers also dominate when it comes to rebounding, ranking second in the Big East with 43.4 boards per game.

That statistic could spell trouble for the Panthers, who collected just 17 rebounds — a program low — against Notre Dame on Tuesday.

A duo of sophomore guards — Taylor Palmer and Christal Caldwell — leads the way offensively for West Virginia. The two average 13.7 and 10.1 points, respectively.

West Virginia’s inside game should also challenge Pitt.

Junior Ayana Dunning averages 7.9 rebounds per game, while junior center Asya Bussie averages 6.6 boards and 12.6 points.

Berenato said that she thinks establishing the pace from the very beginning will be particularly important to Pitt’s success.

“You have to come out, and you have to be the aggressor,” Berenato said. “Someone’s going to throw the [figurative] first punch … We have to come out running the floor … I feel like we have to be confident, we have to take care of the ball and keep possession.”

Given the uncertain future of the Backyard Brawl with both Pitt and West Virginia set to join new conferences, Anderson said that she wants to capitalize on the opportunity to beat the Mountaineers one, if not two, more times while she still has the chance.

“We want to leave the Big East beating West Virginia,” she said.

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