Pitt women’s basketball came into Thursday night’s home game against No. 8 North Carolina State with little chance of pulling off an upset. And while the Panthers trailed by a manageable eight points at halftime, they collapsed in the second half en route to a season-worst 88-44 loss.
The Wolfpack (18-1 overall, 7-1 ACC) outscored Pitt (3-15 overall, 0-7 ACC) 50-14 in the second half, which has been a recurring theme for a young team that struggles to remain consistent when faced with adversity. That marks 11 straight losses for the Panthers — the second straight season with such a losing streak under head coach Lance White.
“We just couldn’t match [them],” White said afterward. “We get content with, you’re playing with them for a half and play with them for a couple of quarters, but can’t maintain it. We’re just not fundamentally and mentally tough enough yet to battle teams in that.”
The game began close enough, with both teams trading buckets and NC State leading 16-13 at the first media timeout. Sophomore center Elissa Cunane quickly displayed her dominance by scoring six of NC State’s first eight points within a minute and a half, all down in the paint.
While Pitt’s offense did well, its defense is what kept them in the game in the first quarter. Unlike the usual man-to-man scheme they usually employ, the Panthers went with a zone to combat the Wolfpack’s taller players.
The zone was generally successful, as the Panthers clogged up the lanes and forced the Wolfpack to shoot from behind the arc, where they shot an abysmal 2-10 from 3-point range in the first quarter. Pitt trailed by five points, 20-15, entering the second.
Despite giving up two quick baskets and head coach Lance White calling a timeout to start the second quarter, Pitt cut the deficit back to five points with scores from first-year guard Emy Hayford and fifth-year guard Aysia Bugg.
From there, Bugg kept Pitt in the game with a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which gave her 100 for her career. The Wolfpack cushioned their advantage and led 38-30 at halftime.
But all the hard work Pitt put forth in the first half was suddenly thrown out the window in the third quarter, when the Panthers found themselves unable to generate any momentum on either side of the ball.
Pitt scored four total points in the third quarter, and its first bucket — a jumper from Harris — didn’t come until 2:15 remained. Harris was the only Panther to score at all in the quarter, as she also made a layup with 30 seconds left. As a team, Pitt shot 2-15 from the field.
Defensively, the zone that worked in the first half was picked apart by the Wolfpack, as they spread the floor and finally started to hit shots from deep. They played a nearly impeccable quarter, shooting 5-7 from beyond the arc, 10-15 from the field and 5-6 from the foul line, clearly outmatching the Panthers in every facet of the game.
While the Wolfpack slowed their pace in the fourth quarter, they still smothered Pitt defensively while continuing to get buckets at ease, outscoring Pitt 20-10 on their way to a 40-point blowout.
The Panthers again shot poorly, going 3-13 from the floor in the fourth quarter. And Harris again led Pitt in scoring with six points, making a 3-pointer and converting an and-one layup.
Harris had a strong day overall in what was Pitt’s worst loss this season, finishing with 16 points, and noted afterward that she feels that she’s settled into a groove as of late.
“I’ve learned so much,” Harris said. “I think I’ve grown tremendously. I still go ‘crazy,’ I still move fast, but I’ve learned to slow down.”
The ACC schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Panthers as they travel to take on No. 5 Louisville on Sunday.