Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer
Multiple Pitt student-athletes didn’t get much of a break this winter. The men’s basketball, women’s basketball, wrestling and football teams were all hard at work, coming back from break with an overall 10-3 record between the four teams. The wrestling team paved the way, going undefeated, including an upset over No. 20 Oklahoma. The men’s basketball team also had a productive break going 3-1 and outscoring opponents 305-209.
Pitt football adds 18 recruits on early national signing day
Pitt football signed its second-worst high school recruiting class in the last nine years, placing 51st in the nation, according to 247Sports.com. Graphic by Jon Moss | Online Visual Editor
Coach Pat Narduzzi had a busy winter break. After signing 18 recruits on early national signing day, Dec. 19, Narduzzi announced Jan. 4 he fired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman.
The cuts came after Pitt’s 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl Dec. 31. Watson served as the offensive coordinator for the past two years and Sherman as the wide receivers coach for the past four years.
The new coaches Narduzzi brings in will have the opportunity to work with a lot of fresh talent. According to ESPN.com, Rivals.com and 247Sports.com, Narduzzi’s early signing class is a mixture of four- and three-star recruits, containing only two two-star recruits.
Nine defensive players and eight offensive players define the class. There is also one hybrid player, Kyi Wright of Farrell. Wright is listed as an outside linebacker on several recruiting sites, but Pitt has listed him as an “Athlete” on its athletic site.
Quarterback Davis Beville of Greenville, South Carolina, and tailback Daniel Carter of Margate, Florida, both rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com, were two of the biggest names Narduzzi signed.
Beville is expected to bring hope at an important position the Panthers have struggled with recently. Carter will enter a backfield with big shoes to fill, helping to replace Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall who each rushed for over 1,000 yards this season.
Also joining the 2019 recruiting class are defensive backs Brandon Hill and A.J. Woods, Jr., both ranked four-star recruits by ESPN.com. Both were big signs for Narduzzi as Pitt’s secondary is arguably the weakest position on the team currently.
While the 2019 class could grow by a few players, this is the bulk of the class that will look to help elevate the Panthers after an encouraging, yet average, 7-7 season.
Coach Capel’s Panthers dominate going into conference play, but fall to UNC
The men’s basketball team displayed an impressive three-game stretch at the Pete over winter break after a hard-fought 69-59 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown.
Over the stretch that lasted Dec. 15-29, Pitt outscored its opponents 245-154 to improve to 10-3. Pitt’s win streak ended in an 85-60 loss to UNC in its first ACC game Saturday, Jan. 5. The loss was Pitt’s 23rd consecutive regular season ACC loss, dating back to Feb. 22, 2017.
The Panthers started their break by dominating Maryland Eastern Shore 78-43. Pitt’s bench did most of the damage, outscoring both the opposing bench and the Panther starters.
Senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame notched his first double-double with 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. First-year point-guard Xavier Johnson led all scorers with 12 points — Johnson also broke a program, recording 11 consecutive games scoring in double figures.
Pitt earned its next win against New Orleans in a 99-57 blowout. Pitt’s highly touted first-years, including Johnson, guard Trey McGowens and forward Au’Diese Toney, each scored at least 20 points.
McGowens and Toney recorded career highs with 24 and 20 points, respectively, and the three combined for a freshman record 65 points.
The Panthers tied another record by making 22-23 free throws — the first-years accounted for 21 of those. The win marked the team’s ninth win, more than the program had all of last season.
Colgate provided the Panthers with a little bit of a tougher task, but the Panthers still prevailed in their last out-of-conference matchup. Pitt’s three standout first-years all scored in double figures and were joined by Wilson-Frame who had 15 points and sophomore center Terrell Brown who had 10 points.
Brown had a program-high nine blocks to go along with his double-digit scoring.
McGowens was named ACC Rookie of the Week for the last week of 2018. The first-year guard led the Panthers in scoring against Colgate for the second game in a row after pouring in 24 points against New Orleans. McGowens also leads the team in steals with 28 this season.
Sophomore forward Shamiel Stevenson announced his intentions to transfer over winter break. Stevenson was a contributor to the Panthers under Kevin Stallings last season but has been used sparingly under Capel, appearing in only four games. Stevenson has since committed to Nevada, the country’s No. 6 team at 14-0.
“We appreciate his efforts with the Pitt basketball program and wish him well,” Capel said in a statement.
Women’s basketball team has successful winter break
The women’s hoops team posted a 3-1 record over winter break, with its only loss coming at the hands of No. 2 Notre Dame.
A superior rebounding effort allowed the Panthers to secure a come-from-behind victory over the UNCW Seahawks 60-56. The team trailed by as many as 13 and an 8-0 run erased an eight-point deficit with only seven minutes to go. Sophomore center Cara Judkins led the scoring for Pitt, netting 16 points on 8-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Panthers again came from behind to beat Saint Francis 78-75 in overtime. Down as many as 12, Pitt gave the home crowd a thriller, in large part due to a career-best 20 points from senior forward Danielle Garven. Pitt was able to outscore St. Francis 10-7 in overtime. Junior guard Jasmine Whitney contributed 17 second-half points to aid in the win.
Coach Lance White and his team notched their third straight victory against crosstown rival Duquesne in the annual City Game. The Panthers shot a stellar 60 percent from three, compared to the Dukes’ 19 percent.
Whitney bested her previous game, extending her career high to 23 points while making all eight of her free throws. Senior guard Cassidy Walsh scored in double figures for the third time in as many games.
Sitting at 9-5 heading into conference play, the Panthers lost their first ACC game against No. 2 Notre Dame 100-44. The Panthers grabbed a season-high 19 offensive boards and outscored the Fighting Irish in the fourth quarter.
Pitt wrestling goes undefeated in three winter break matches
Pitt wrestling, ranked No. 24, took down West Virginia, Bucknell and Clarion over break to remain undefeated, improving to 5-0.
Seven wins and two forfeits gave the Panthers a 37-3 win over rival West Virginia at the Fitzgerald Field House. Five of the matches went all three rounds, while redshirt freshmen Micky Phillippi and Nico Bonaccorsi won by technical falls.
Junior Demetrius Thomas, ranked 13th at 285 pounds, earned his 15th win of the season in the match.
Pitt then beat Bucknell in a 34-4 blowout. Tenth-ranked junior Taleb Rahmani won 157-pound weight class to improve to 8-2. Seniors Robert Lee, Bonaccorsi, Phillippi and Thomas all contributed bonus points in the match.
The Panthers then beat Clarion 39-3 with pins from seniors LJ Bentley, Lee and Thomas. Pitt finished out winter break upsetting No. 20 Oklahoma to remain undefeated.