Women’s Basketball: Panthers throttled by Hampton in season opener

By Greg Trietley

Pitt women’s basketball head coach Agnus Berenato said Saturday that it wasn’t a national… Pitt women’s basketball head coach Agnus Berenato said Saturday that it wasn’t a national powerhouse like Connecticut or Notre Dame that gave the Panthers their most resounding loss in years.

It was the Hampton Lady Pirates.

A nearly-12-minute first-half field goal drought did the Panthers in Saturday afternoon, and Hampton defeated Pitt 60-37 at the Petersen Events Center in both teams’ season opener.

“I said to my staff, ‘I haven’t had a butt-kicking like that in a really long time,’” Berenato said. “We’ve played Connecticut and Notre Dame and a lot of really good teams, and I think that today our youth really showed.”

Hampton senior guard Choicetta McMillian hit six 3-pointers en route to 22 points and eight rebounds, and the Lady Pirates (1-0) showed why they dominated the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season. Hampton hit 10 three-pointers, out-rebounded Pitt 46-35 and frustrated the Panthers offense.

“I wouldn’t say I expected to come in here and hit as many threes, but I would be lying to you if I said that we didn’t come in here and expect to win,” Hampton head coach David Six said. “We had a philosophy that if we defend at a high level, if we rebound well and we don’t turn the ball over, we can play with anybody.”

Hampton is the two-time defending MEAC champion.

Pitt (0-1) held strong early against the Lady Pirates, limiting the effectiveness of senior frontcourt duo Melanie Warner and Sherena Abercrumbia in the opening 10 minutes.

“I thought we got off to a rocky start, obviously,” Six said. “It’s early in the season and people are still finding their way.”

Hampton started 5 for 22 from the floor.

But Pitt’s struggles on offense marred its defensive efforts. After freshman guard Brianna Kiesel hit a jumper with 11:47 left in the first half, Pitt didn’t make another field goal until sophomore forward Asia Logan converted a fast-break layup at the buzzer.

By then, Hampton’s perimeter shooting had given the Lady Pirates a 31-15 advantage.

“We need to relax and run our plays,” Logan said after the game. “The points are there. We were just rushing.”

In the first half, the Panthers recorded 11 turnovers, one assist, 3 for 10 from the free-throw stripe and 0 for 4 from 3-point range.

Berenato said that her young players received a dose of reality against Hampton.

“I think that, mentally, it was really obvious we had a young team today,” she said. “They would miss a shot and put their head down, or a coach would say something to them and because of inexperience and not being seasoned and mature, they would take it personally.”

With six freshmen, three sophomores and three redshirt sophomores, Pitt is the youngest team in Division I women’s basketball this year.

“I think that our players don’t know exactly what kind of effort we expect from them because they’ve never played an entire college season before,” Berenato said. “Normally young players would experience coming in as a substitute and playing a few minutes and even going some games not playing at all, but right now all of our players have to play 20 to 30 minutes since they are all new.”

The Panthers also had to deal with a growing list of injuries against Hampton. Freshman forward TiAnna Porter missed Saturday’s game and will miss about a month because of a stress fracture in her foot, Berenato said.

Porter joins fellow freshmen Cora McManus and Loliya Briggs on the injury list, leaving Pitt with just nine healthy players and three healthy forwards.

Berenato moved Logan, a natural guard, to power forward against Hampton.

“I give Asia credit,” Berenato said. “She had been playing guard the whole season until Friday, and I told her she was going to be playing at the four. And today she played a lot at the four.”

Logan finished with a team-high 12 points, the only Panther scorer in double digits.

Sophomore center Leeza Burdgess had 10 rebounds, but Hampton pulled down 16 offensive boards over Pitt’s frontcourt.

“We weren’t boxing out,” Logan said. “We’ve put so much emphasis on that, and we weren’t able to accomplish that today.”

Burdgess and sophomore Ashlee Anderson came off the bench to generate some momentum in the second half, but they couldn’t close the gap to any fewer than 15 points, as Hampton continued to drain perimeter shots and stifle Pitt’s offense.

Warner finished with 12 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Pirates, and junior forward Ariel Phelps had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

The Panthers finished with 22 turnovers to five assists.

“I thought we were doing a good job defensively,” Six said. “When you come down three or four times and you don’t score, it tends to wear on you. That might be what happened.”