When the final buzzer sounded against Wake Forest on Feb. 28, the Pitt women’s basketball team finished their season on a flat note — a 72-38 blowout loss in the ACC tournament.
The lopsided loss was all too common this season. The Panthers finished 10-20 overall and 2-15 in the ACC, earning a 14th place finish in the 15-team conference. Of those 20 losses, seven were by more than 10 points, four were by more than 20 points and three were by more than 30.
Pitt’s downtrodden season was disappointing, but not surprising. In the ACC preseason rankings, done by conference coaches and a selected panel, Pitt was picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the conference.
Pitt finished 13-17 overall and 4-12 in the ACC last season — good enough for 11th place in the conference. They only had one returning player this year in senior guard Aysia Bugg, and lost their top scorer and rebounder, forward Brenna Wise, who transferred to Indiana.
Bugg saw a diminished role this season as she was rehabbing a knee injury, forcing sophomore guard Jasmine Whitney into the spotlight.
Even if there wasn’t much for the Panthers to celebrate, there was one big bright spot — junior forward Yacine Diop. After being redshirted last year because of a stress fracture in her foot, Diop came back to lead the team. Diop was a force for the Panthers, leading in scoring with an average of 15.7 points per game.
A problem for Pitt, though, was that Diop had to lead the team in scoring every game if they wanted a chance to win. Diop took 446 shots this season, which was almost double the next player, Whitney, who took 239.
As a result, the Panthers struggled on offense. Out of 349 Division I teams, Pitt finished 287th in scoring offense with 59.3 points per game and 189th in field goal percentage, shooting 39.8 percent as a team. They also failed to create many chances at the free-throw line, finishing third-worst in the NCAA in free throw attempts and second-worst in free throw makes.
Pitt was blown out in games against top teams like No. 3 Louisville — which they lost to on two occasions, 77-51 and 81-49 — and No. 5 Notre Dame, which beat Pitt 87-53. Pitt didn’t shoot higher than 42.9 percent from the field or higher than 33 percent from 3-point range in any of those three blowout losses.
Still, none of Pitt’s losses were as heartbreaking as its loss to North Carolina. The Panthers fought in a back-and-forth game that came down to the final possession. After the Panthers gave up a 3-pointer to go down by one, Whitney was fouled and had two foul shots to win the game. But she missed both foul shots and Pitt lost, 68-67.
Despite the tough losses, the Panthers did put together a few strong wins earlier in the season. A 20-point win against Cincinnati on Nov. 21 was particularly notable as it was the first away win for the Panthers since Feb. 18, 2016, against UNC.
Another bright spot was a close 68-62 victory against Georgia Tech on Jan. 14. The Panthers were riding a four-game losing streak coming into the game and were in need of their first ACC win. Sophomore guard Alayna Gribble came up big for the Panthers, scoring a career-high 29 points on 9-12 shooting with a school-record seven 3-pointers.
Although the Georgia Tech game looked to be a turning point in the season for Pitt, it ended up being one of the last games they won. The Panthers would go on to win only one more ACC game the rest of the season, which came against the Clemson Tigers — the worst team in the ACC.
The Panthers roster will remain stable heading into next season, with Bugg being the only graduating senior. The team will also bring in three point guards in next year’s recruiting class, including Jahsyni Knight — who is ranked as the No. 84 recruit in the country with a 94 overall rating, according to ESPN.
Going into her sixth year as head coach of Pitt, Suzie McConnell-Serio needs to find a way for her team to start competing and make it back to the postseason. It’s been three years since the team last made the NCAA tournament or had a winning season, a striking drought for an ACC program.
McConnell-Serio has had success as a coach before and is a local basketball legend in western Pennsylvania. But if changes don’t come next season and the team continues to lose, there may be more leadership adjustments for Pitt basketball.