It seems like the same refrain year after year, but it holds true again this season — Pitt women’s basketball head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio is once again fielding a young team.
Out of 12 players on the Panthers’ roster, eight are first- and second-year players, and only two are seniors. But there’s reason for optimism with the current squad, no matter how raw they are.
Pitt’s core will center around two juniors, Yacine Diop and Aysia Bugg, and one sophomore, Brenna Wise.
Diop played her best basketball of the year as last season came to a conclusion. The 5-foot-10 forward from Dakar, Senegal, provides energy, defensive intensity and the explosiveness to drive to the basket. She averaged 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last year while shooting an impressive 45 percent from the field.
Pitt’s primary facilitator, Bugg, will likely bring the ball up the floor as the Panthers’ starting point guard. She led Pitt in assists last season, sporting nearly twice as many as any other player on the team. Bugg is also the Panthers’ best returning outside shooter — she’s the only returning player who made more than 22 3-pointers last year.
Her shooting is key for Pitt, as Fred Potvin –– the team’s best perimeter weapon a year ago –– transferred back home to McGill University in Montreal.
But the biggest name of those three — and the most crucial to Pitt’s success this season — is Wise. As a first-year forward in 2015-2016, Wise quickly became the Panthers’ most effective scoring option and post player, leading the team with 10.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Pitt will need Wise to be an even bigger force this season and improve a field goal percentage that sat at an unimpressive 36.6 percent last year. Expect a big leap in that figure as Wise settles in further to the college game during her second season.
The team will also need to replace the production of center Stasha Carey, who transferred to Rutgers this offseason. DePaul graduate transfer Brandi Harvey-Carr is a 6-foot-4 center, but only played in 7.4 minutes per game last season while averaging 2.5 points and 1.8 rebounds.
Pitt has two other incoming talents that could be instant contributors in 5-foot-9 guard Jasmine Whitney and 6-foot guard Alayna Gribble. Whitney was a four-time state champion at Paul VI Catholic High School, and Gribble was the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year in 2016 after leading Norwin High School to its second consecutive WPIAL Girls AAAA championship.
Both young guards could infuse the team with scoring ability off the bench this season.
It’s still uncertain if the rest of the rotation will be reliable enough to sustain success in the toughest conference in the country. Sophomores Cassidy Walsh and Kalista Walters showed flashes last season and will both probably see an uptick in minutes at the guard position.
Pitt still has a lot to improve on from last year’s 13-18 record and 4-12 mark in conference play. But if the youth on the team make a jump, finishing in the upper half of the ACC is certainly possible.