The Pitt women’s basketball team was blown out at the Carrier Dome, 70-52, in its first matchup of the season against rival Syracuse Jan. 21. During Monday night’s home stand, the Panthers played much better but still lost to the Orange, 62-53.
The Panthers (10-17 overall, 2-12 ACC) kept the final margin closer than the last game against the Orange (20-7 overall, 8-6 ACC) but had trouble scoring against the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense — a scheme in which the five defenders defend a zone on the court instead of another player.
“I was very proud of our players and their effort tonight, and how hard they played and how they battled and how they learned so much from game one to game two,” Pitt head coach Suzie-McConnell Serio said. “We didn’t compete that well the first time around, and I thought we competed today.”
The game started with both teams struggling with shooting. The Panthers shot 3-9 and the Orange shot 3-13, including 0-6 from the 3-point line before the first media timeout with 2:59 to go in the first quarter.
Syracuse missed its first nine shots of the game before first-year forward Digna Strautmane made a layup with 5:18 remaining in the first quarter. Strautmane had a strong first quarter, getting six points total and leading the Orange to a 12-9 lead. She also was a big factor on the boards, grabbing four rebounds and helping Syracuse to a 24-18 rebounding advantage in the first half.
The Orange took initiative early in the second quarter. McConnell-Serio was forced to take a timeout when Syracuse got two big 3-point shots from sophomore guard Gabrielle Cooper and redshirt junior guard Isis Young, to take an 18-9 lead with 9:05 left in the second quarter.
Though the Panthers fell behind early in the second quarter but clawed their way back to make the game almost level at halftime. Junior center Kalista Walters was a crucial part of the comeback, guiding the Panthers with six points in the quarter and four rebounds in the second quarter.
Syracuse’s abysmal shooting allowed Pitt to make a comeback. The Orange went only 2-13 from the field, including 1-8 from the 3-point line after taking a nine-point lead early in the second quarter. The only bright spot was redshirt junior forward Miranda Drummond, who scored the last seven points in the quarter for the Orange.
The Panthers countered Drummond’s scoring by shooting 6-13 from the field and using a 5-0 run over the last three minutes of the second to only trail 25-23 by halftime.
The game stayed close during the third quarter. Pitt brought the deficit down to one with two foul shots by sophomore guard Jasmine Whitney with 4:12 remaining. Then, Syracuse went on a 10-1 run to close out the quarter, leading 42-34. Strautmane was once again a big factor for the Orange, scoring 10 points on 3-7 shooting in the third quarter.
Pitt sophomore guard Alayna Gribble said Strautmane and Drummond’s aggressiveness made them hard to defend.
“I think they’re just aggressive and they’re very versatile, they can shoot and drive,” Gribble said. “And then if you like help off of them, they always look for the open player.”
In the fourth quarter, Syracuse was able to keep the Panthers from coming back and maintained their lead to get the win.
A 3-point shot from Gribble and a jumper from redshirt junior forward Yacine Diop, who finished with 16, cut the lead to four with 8:21 left in the game. Syracuse quickly got two 3-pointers of their own to extend the lead to 10.
Sophomore guard Tiana Mangakahia came alive in the fourth quarter. She scored 10 points in the quarter, going 3-4 from the field and shooting 4-4 from the free throw line to put the game away for the Orange.
“All the little things hurt us in the end,” Walters said. “Missed foul shots, turnovers, their points off of our turnovers, offensive rebounds — they all come to play at the end of the game.”
Pitt will take on No. 21 North Carolina State in its final home game of the season Thursday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.