After the two youngest players on the Pitt women’s basketball team led the way in the regular season opener, a familiar name emerged at the top of the stat sheet in game two: Brenna Wise.
A team-record 9,771 fans spilled out of school buses and into the Petersen Events Center at 11 a.m. Monday morning to witness the Panthers (2-0) defeat the Youngstown State Penguins (0-2), 63-50, in the team’s eighth annual School Day. Wise — Pitt’s sophomore forward and top scorer and rebounder last year — contributed 16 points along with 10 rebounds to lead all players in the Panthers’ win.
But it wasn’t an easy victory for Pitt.
The Penguins won the opening tipoff, and within 12 seconds, they put the first points on the board. A 3-pointer from senior guard Jenna Hirsch put the Panthers behind, but two successful free throws from Wise closed the gap. Another three from Hirsch doubled Youngstown State’s points.
“They came out aggressive and hit two big threes to start the game,” Pitt head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “We just needed to settle into the game and be ready to defend the three-point line, something we talked about going into this game.”
Fighting to keep the ball in the Panthers’ half, Wise put up the team’s first 3-pointer, a crucial shot. Then, Pitt junior guard Aysia Bugg pushed the ball up the court to take advantage of the Penguins’ miss.
The Panthers couldn’t stop the Penguins’ shots, and, with six minutes left in the first quarter, found themselves in an 11-5 hole. But with Pitt center Brandi Harvey-Carr at the foul line, two more points went up for the Panthers.
McConnell-Serio turned to her bench for a much-needed spark.
Pitt first-year guard Alayna Gribble subbed in for fellow first-year guard Jasmine Whitney and promptly made her first three, helping the Panthers reach double digits. Wise tied up the game with a layup, 12-12.
Youngstown State took the lead once more, refusing to give Pitt control of the court. But Wise continued her streak of successful free throws, giving the Panthers a their first lead of the game, 17-16.
Whitney, back from the bench to take over at point guard for Bugg, assisted Wise with a layup to make it 21-16 Pitt at the end of the first quarter.
“We kept the intensity up once we saw that we were letting them get back in the game,” said Pitt sophomore forward Kauai Bradley, who finished with 13 points. “That encouraged us a little bit more to go harder and harder so they wouldn’t come back as much.”
Pitt started the second quarter with renewed fervor. Tracking the Penguins’ passes, the Panthers waited for the right moment to pounce and block a layup attempt, maintaining the lead they had struggled to create.
The first half ended with Pitt leading in double digits, 39-26, and Youngstown State failing to recreate the dominance they had established in the first minutes of the game.
Whitney and Wise worked together to start the second half with two points for the Panthers. This was Whitney’s first completed shot of the game, unusual for a strong shooter. Bradley shot and made her second three-point basket. She then caught a Penguins pass and forwarded the ball to Wise for an easy layup. The Panthers’ lead increased to 20 points, 48-28.
Youngstown State started the final quarter with the first three successful baskets, adding seven points to their score, more than they scored in the entire third quarter. The Penguins continued to nail their shots, decreasing Pitt’s lead to 13 points at 57-44.
“Third quarter wasn’t bad,” Bugg said. “Fourth quarter we came out a little dry, and that affected the lead change and how much they came back.”
Consecutive baskets by Bugg and Pitt sophomore forward Kalista Walters stretched Pitt’s lead to 14. Whitney added to that with a layup for two more points to make it 63-47. With 30 seconds to go in the game, Youngstown State added three more points, but Pitt secured the win, 63-50.
“The next two days, we’ll prepare for Loyola,” McConnell-Serio said. “But at the same time, we need to prepare ourselves and do what we do.”
The Panthers will host Loyola University Chicago (0-1) at the Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17.