Storybook season ends with loss despite herculean performance by Kiesel


Despite a season in which the team overcame numerous odds, the Pitt women’s basketball team couldn’t surmount the challenge of the No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers, falling by a score of 77-67 in Nashville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Monday evening.

The Panthers, who the official ACC preseason poll chose to finish 14th in the conference, defied all expectation in 2014-2015, finishing seventh in the ACC and making the program’s first NCAA tournament in six years. The team also won its first tournament game since the 2008-2009 season last Saturday, upsetting the No. 7-seed Chattanooga 51-40.

The magic ended on Monday, as the No. 10-seed Pitt team struggled mightily with rebounding and Tennessee outworked Pitt on the boards by a 47-39 margin. Despite an impressive second-half effort from senior guard Brianna Kiesel, who scored 24 of her career-high 32 points in the final period, the Panthers could not overcome that lack of efficacy on the boards.

The Volunteers opened up the game with a torrid pace, kicking off the contest with a 15-4 run. Pitt kept the game somewhat in reach in the first half, though, thanks largely to seven steals in the first period.

While the Panthers closed the gap a bit, narrowing Tennessee’s lead to 24-17, the Volunteers still extended the margin, leading 35-23 heading into the intermission.

Kiesel finished the first half with eight points on 2-8 shooting. She would triple that output in the second half alone.

Pitt burst out of the locker room surging, as the team opened the final period on a 10-0 run within the first three minutes to minimize the deficit to just 35-32, with seven of those points coming via Kiesel.

Despite the early run, Tennessee stayed composed and gained control of the game, extending its lead to a game-high 14 points following a made free throw by sophomore Andraya Carter, extending its advantage to 64-50.

The Panthers responded, though, as the team busted out a 10-2 run, capped off by a Brianna Kiesel layup, to diminish the Tennessee lead to 66-60 with 1:42 remaining.

Still, despite some tough play by Kiesel and freshman guard Yacine Diop, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, the Volunteers converted all of their final eight free throws, winning the game and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Junior forward Bashaara Graves, who tallied 21 points and 14 rebounds on the evening, led Tennesse.

The game marked the final career outing for Kiesel, as the senior guard finished her Pitt career fifth in program history in points with 1,938 and tied for fifth in assists with 433.

In head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio’s second season at Pitt, the team saw its first 20-win season since 2008-2009, going 20-12 on the season.

The Panthers seem on track to remain formidable next season, with freshmen Diop, Stasha Carey and Aysia Bugg all returning, as well as a highly touted recruiting class incoming. The team also hopes to get 6-foot-11-inch Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson, who missed the entire season with a knee injury, back next year. Despite the loss of Kiesel, the team’s ascension doesn’t look like it will be ending anytime soon.