In order to maintain its morale following the worst loss in its history — a 76-point loss to… In order to maintain its morale following the worst loss in its history — a 76-point loss to Notre Dame — the Pitt women’s basketball team decided to begin the season all over again.
Redshirt sophomore Ashlee Anderson said the Panthers are trying to harness the motivation that comes at the beginning of a fresh season.
“When you start off at the beginning of the season, it’s like motivation. Like OK, it’s a new season,” Anderson said. “Now we can take the positives out of the situation because we started 0-0 for the new season. So … our mindset was to win every game from this point on.”
The new start didn’t go as planned.
The Panthers (8-12 overall, 0-7 Big East) fell to West Virginia (14-5, 4-2 Big East) 54-43 at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
In terms of its new season, Pitt is 0-1. But the Panthers have really lost six games in a row and are still searching for their first win in the Big East.
Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato barely acknowledged the record-setting loss to the Fighting Irish.
“That’s in the past, that’s history, and I don’t want to have any comment on that,” she said. “We started a new season today. We’re 0-1.”
Anderson and the Panthers started their new season aggressive on offense, but that aggression failed to translate into points against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia’s suffocating defense caused problems for Pitt as the Mountaineers jumped into passing lanes and turned subsequent scoring opportunities into points.
Berenato commented on the game’s physicality and said turnovers hurt the Panthers, particuarly in the first half.
“If you pick up the ball in a deadball situation, [the Mountaineers] just smother you,” Berenato said. “And when you take a team that has never played against that, we can tell them all we want, and we can do it with our kids and our practice kids, but it’s not the same.”
Although the turnover margin between the two teams was slim, West Virginia capitalized on Pitt’s mistakes, and the Panthers couldn’t do the same.
Pitt scored just 10 points off 18 Mountaineer turnovers, while West Virginia scored 26 points off 17 Pitt turnovers.
Anderson said she saw a difference defensively in the second half once Pitt started making its shots. The Panthers shot 30.8 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the foul line in the second half as opposed to 24.7 percent and 66.7 percent, respectively, in the first half.
“Once we started making our shots we were able to force them into turnovers because we were able to set up in our press or even just get a good defensive stop,” she said.
Pitt went 4:30 in the first half without a basket, and West Virginia went on a 10-0 run during that span to take a 14-4 lead.
The Panthers had no answer for West Virginia redshirt sophomore Christal Caldwell, who led all scorers with 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
“She’s the kid that hurt us,” Berenato said. “She made the difference.”
West Virginia head coach Mike Carey said he thought Caldwell should have shot more given the success she had against Pitt’s defense.
“She was hot,” Carey said. “You get hot; you just keep shooting.”
Carey’s squad, while not as young as Pitt’s, has eight underclassmen on the roster. The Panthers, made up of all freshmen and sophomores, are the youngest team in Division I.
At this point in the season, Carey refused to use West Virginia’s inexperience as an excuse after getting outscored 27-22 in the second half.
“We just don’t use that as an excuse any more,” Carey said. “You play in the Big East. You got to get better, you got to compete, and you got to make the plays. Nobody in the Big East cares [how young you are]. They don’t care if you’re all freshmen and sophomores. They’re gonna try and beat you as bad as they can.”
Mountaineer junior Asya Bussie had her way with Pitt’s post players, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Pitt went scoreless during the last seven minutes of the first half, allowing the Mountaineers to stretch a 22-15 lead into a 32-16 halftime advantage.
Berenato said the Panthers put themselves in a hole with the two scoreless stretches in the first half.
“The first half we missed probably 11 shots in the paint,” Berenato said. ”Our players were there, and they were able to get to the rim and we missed the shots.”
The Panthers shot just 24.1 percent from the field, shooting 7-29 in the first half.
West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in points allowed (49.1 ppg). Pitt managed to find open looks despite the Mountaineer’s defense, but the players couldn’t capitalize.
Pitt sophomore Kyra Dunn said she realized that failure to convert hurt the Panthers.
“We had shots, and it was just a matter of making our shots, just a matter of focusing,” Dunn said. “And today it was really tough [for] us just to put the ball in the basket … They weren’t taking away our shots. It was just us.”