Knights knock off Panthers, 61-58, in first game


Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

Senior forward Kauai Bradley (14) passes the ball during Pitt’s 58-61 loss to UCF.

By Dominic Campbell, Staff Writer

In the Petersen Events Center, filled with more than 8,000 grade-school students from around the Pittsburgh area, the Pitt women’s basketball team lost a 61-58 nail-biter to the University of Central Florida in the annual school-day game Wednesday morning.

The game, which started at 11 a.m., swayed back and forth throughout, with both teams going on runs and taking control at different points. It was also the Panthers’ opening game of the season and their first official game under new head coach Lance White. White said the game exceeded his expectations in terms of the atmosphere and emotion.

“There was a lot of emotion being the first time, the first collegiate game as a head coach. It really exceeded my expectations of how many people they put in here,” White said. “That was really awesome to see and to give those kids a chance to be on our campus and get to see women’s basketball live.”

Senior forward Kauai Bradley scored Pitt’s inaugural points of 2018, making two layups to start the game. Redshirt senior guard Aysia Bugg drained a 3-pointer and senior guard Cassidy Walsh also made a layup, spurring an early 11-3 lead for the Panthers.

The Knights struggled throughout the quarter, going an abysmal 1-12 from the field. The only saving grace of the quarter was redshirt junior forward Touloupe Omokore going 3-4 from the foul line.

Pitt used its defense to take control in the first quarter. The Panthers outrebounded UCF 11-7 and also tallied three blocks compared to none for UCF. A combination of tough defense and the Knights’ poor shooting led to a 12-5 Panther lead after one quarter.

Pitt continued its momentum going into the next quarter, embarking on a 10-6 run — which included 3-pointers from both Walsh and Bugg — to take a 22-11 lead.

The Knights were determined not to let this game slip away as they came storming back after the run, starting a 13-4 run of their own. Senior guard Jamesha Paul led the way, scoring six points on 3-4 shooting in the quarter. A buzzer-beater from senior guard Kayla Thigpen finished the run and closed the gap to a 26-24 lead for Pitt going into halftime.

Pitt again came out sluggish in the second half, letting the Knights go on an 11-4 run to take the lead for the first time since the opening minute of the game at 35-30. Instrumental in that run was senior guard Sydnee McDonald, who contributed her first stats of the game with a 3-pointer and a layup.

Despite giving up the lead, the Panthers came roaring back, taking a 16-6 run with them into the fourth quarter. Both Walsh and Bradley hit 3-pointers, as well as sophomore guard Kyla Nelson. Junior guard Jasmine Whitney sunk five of her six free throws in the quarter and had three assists to bring her total up to five, bringing Pitt into the fourth quarter with a 46-41 lead.

UCF junior guard Kay Kay Wright was the ultimate difference-maker in the fourth quarter. While she struggled through the first three quarters, going 3-12 from the field and 0-4 from 3-point range, Wright led the way in the fourth, scoring 13 of the 17 points in the quarter for UCF.

“I would just say communication and transition,” Whitney said about having trouble defending Wright in the fourth. “She kind of broke us down in transition a lot and we kind of had some defensive breakdowns there in transition at the end. Little things we just gotta change.”

She started early by making a foul shot and then two buckets. She was countered by Walsh, who hit a 3-point shot to make it 50-46 Pitt. This was her third 3-pointer of the game — the most in her career as a Panther.

The game continued to go back and forth — Whitney made two foul shots, Wright hit another jumper, UCF sophomore forward Masseny Kaba made a foul shot and then Bradley made a layup to keep it at 54-49.

Then the Knights took over, getting a huge 3-pointer by none other than Wright, followed by an and-one play layup by McDonald. That play gave UCF a 55-54 lead with 3:48 remaining in the game.

Bugg helped the Panthers stay in winning position down the stretch as she scored two jumpers, with both giving her team the lead back. Her final basket gave the Panthers a 58-57 lead with 1:53 to go.

Unfortunately for Pitt, bad time management and poor shot selection ended their chances to win. On the ensuing UCF possession, senior forward Danielle Garven committed a shooting foul on Kaba — her fifth foul of the game. It ended Garven’s day, which ended up as a disappointment since she only had four points after scoring 20 against Gannon last week. Kaba hit both free throws, making it 59-58 UCF.

The Panthers would get a chance to take the lead when Whitney shot a wide open 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, but she missed it and Bradley fouled Paul on the rebound.

Paul only made her second free throw, giving the Knights a two-point lead. Pitt looked to tie the next time down the court, with Whitney again trying to make a shot from midrange, but it was blocked by McDonald. While she shot well from the foul line — going 7-9 — and had six assists, Whitney had a tough day overall, making only one of her nine shots from the field and turning it over four times.

After getting a jump ball, Pitt fouled Wright and sent her to the line. Wright made her first, but missed the second, meaning the Panthers had 19 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Trailing by three, Bugg tried and failed to get a screen from her teammates, so she shot a desperation heave with four seconds remaining. Nelson got the rebound off the miss and kicked the ball back out to Bugg for one last chance, only for her last shot to miss as well, ending the game in a loss.

“Well, we didn’t have any timeouts,” Bugg said about the last possession. “We had to shoot the 3 … they kind of defended that well so we just shot the best shot we could get after that.”

The Panthers will be looking to get their first win of the season when they take on the New Orleans Privateers 4 p.m. Friday at the Petersen Events Center.