Pitt to host Florida State in 13th annual Pink the Pete game


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Saturday will mark Pitt women’s basketball’s 13th annual Pink the Petersen game.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

It’s been a tough year for Pitt women’s basketball. The Panthers’ last win came against Ole Miss Nov. 30 — since then, head coach Lance White’s young group has dropped 12 straight contests, including eight against ACC opponents.

But the Panthers will receive a much-needed infusion of hope, strength and joy in an otherwise dreary season this Saturday when they host No. 14 Florida State in the 13th annual Pink the Petersen game for breast cancer awareness.

One of the top teams in the nation, the Seminoles are led by the senior trio of Kiah Gillespie, Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu, all of whom average between 14 and 16 points per game. In their lone meeting last year, Pitt fell to Florida State 78-46. 

Pitt will have the same goal as usual this time around — to beat the other team on the floor and snap its lengthy losing streak. But from the pregame activities to the ceremonies that honor breast cancer survivors, there will be larger factors at play than the on-court competition.

“This game isn’t about us. It’s about all the survivors, all the people going through it, everyone else that’s there,” former Pitt guard Jasmine Whitney said after last season’s game. “It’s bigger than us, so it’s a fun game to play in.”

As has been the case each year since the event began in 2008, a portion of the ticket proceeds will go to Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh, a local branch of the largest breast cancer organization in America.

Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. for the tipoff at 5, and pregame activities will include airbrush tattoo artists, balloon artists, face painters, Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh information tables and activities, a poster-making station and more.

The price of tickets is $5 in advance and $8 at the door, though breast cancer survivors are granted free admission for themselves and four guests. Attendance by survivors has increased steadily in recent years, starting with 187 in 2014 followed by 230, 242, 309 and 338. 

Because of the event’s fanfare and accessibility, it’s typically one of Pitt’s most-attended games each season. Pink the Pete’s all-time attendance record came in 2009, when 6,443 people watched the Panthers take down Cincinnati 68-53.

Pitt’s players will don pink jerseys while all in attendance receive free Pink The Petersen T-shirts. During pregame introductions, each member of the starting five will pair up with a survivor to walk out with.

At halftime, breast cancer survivors in attendance gather on the court, where they are honored by fans with a standing ovation.

Pitt’s proximity to the disease is perhaps closer this year than ever, as one of its own — junior guard Kyla Nelson — was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor of the appendix, a form of cancer, in September. She had surgery to remove the tumor on Oct. 1 and, after months of training, returned to the court Dec. 17 against Miami (Ohio).

“What an inspiration to so many people who have to battle cancer every day,” White said after that game. “To see somebody overcome it and get back on the court and get to play the sport that they love, I think that’s such an inspiration and I think we’ve all been touched by somebody who’s had it.”

Nelson played sparingly in the three games afterward, and hasn’t seen the court in any of Pitt’s last six games. But it’s likely, given the occasion, that she is inserted into the lineup at some point during Saturday’s contest.

As to what to watch for in Saturday’s game, first-year guard Dayshanette Harris has turned a corner over Pitt’s last two games, leading the Panthers with 16 and 18 points, respectively, in losses to ranked NC State and Louisville squads.

Regardless of how Pitt might perform against Florida State, consider clearing your plans for Saturday afternoon and take a hike up to the Pete. Get there early. Enjoy the festivities. Snag a free T-shirt — your wardrobe could probably use some extra pink. Come support not just the women who play on our home team, but also those fighting one of the toughest battles of all.