Pitt women’s basketball blows 23-point first quarter lead to Miami in return to action


Photo courtesy of Alex Mowrey | Pitt Athletics

The Pitt women’s basketball team lost 72-68 against the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night inside the Petersen Events Center.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Miami snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat against Pitt women’s basketball on Thursday night, overcoming a 23-point first quarter deficit to defeat Pitt 72-68.

The last time Pitt played an organized game was on Dec. 20, against the Florida State Seminoles. It was set to play against Boston College on New Year’s Eve, but a positive COVID test and subsequent contact tracing within the Pitt program forced it to postpone that game and the following five games. The team didn’t hold a practice until Jan 14.

Head coach Lance White felt glad to finally play a competitive game, but he expected the team to show a little rust, and planned his approach accordingly.

“We tried to keep it as simple as possible,” he said. “We didn’t run a million sets, because it’s been a long time.”

Miami, in contrast, had played five games since Dec. 20, most recently on Jan. 17, when the Hurricanes suffered a 35-point loss to Syracuse. But Pitt took the floor on Thursday like it had never missed a game, outscoring Miami 31-10 in the first quarter alone.

The Panthers shot 60% from the field, hit four of their six three-pointers and outrebounded Miami 13-7 in the opening frame. Suddenly, the Hurricanes looked like the team that hadn’t played in over 30 days. They didn’t hit a single three-pointer in the first quarter, and while Miami caused four Panther turnovers, it couldn’t convert those into points.

Pitt played some of its best basketball in the first quarter, but the second quarter saw it completely regress. The Hurricanes absolutely dominated that frame — cranking up the heat on all levels and turning a 21-point deficit into a one-point lead, scoring 26 points in the quarter. 

Sophomore center Rita Igbokwe, who finished the game with 12 points, eight rebounds and a career high six blocks, said the Panthers have to work on their consistency.

“I think we played really well, but we did have our lapses where we were getting on ourselves,” she said. “So we have to have a steady pace across the game and just keep going. We can’t have those momentary lapses.”

Miami shot five of 11 from three in the second quarter, while the Panthers couldn’t hit any of their four three-point attempts. The Panthers exited the half barely clinging to a one-point lead, only scoring six points in the second quarter while turning the ball over seven times.

Things seemed to settle down for the Panthers in the third quarter. Junior guard Jayla Everett scored 11 of Pitt’s 18 points in the frame, after being held scoreless in the first half. Three of those points came in the final minutes of the quarter, when she hit a deep jumper from 23 feet out. Everett finished the night with 13 points, two assists and five turnovers.

The Hurricanes outscored the Panthers 50-24 in the second and third quarters, but Everett’s shot slightly shifted the momentum back into Pitt’s favor. Miami led Pitt 60-55 going into the fourth quarter, but White noted Pitt’s mindset change in the second half.

“I thought in the second quarter we lost that reality of what the game really was. We made some errant passes and we were way too emotional than what we had to be at that moment,” White said. “And then I thought the third and fourth quarter we settled in and the kids played within themselves.”

The Panthers had cut an 11-point deficit all the way down to two late in the fourth quarter, helped by Miami failing to make a field goal in the last six minutes. After a block from sophomore guard Dayshanette Harris, Pitt had the ball with less than 30 seconds on the clock and a chance to tie or take the lead.

But none of Pitt’s three chances ended up in the basket. Senior guard Gabbie Green missed a three-pointer, but got her own rebound and kicked it out to Everett, who missed a mid-range jumper. First-year guard Liatu King grabbed that board, but missed the ensuing layup. 

Miami sophomore forward Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba finally snagged the last rebound with just five seconds left, her sixth of the night. Hurricanes junior forward Naomi Mbandu sank two free throws to seal the deal.

Before the team’s last possession, Pitt’s sophomore guard Destiny Strother suffered a cut on her lip. White regretted not having her on the floor for those final seconds. White said Strother received stitches after the game.

“The way she was playing, I would’ve loved to have her in the final minutes,” White said. “I think she would’ve knocked down one of those threes for us.”

Despite the loss, the Panthers appreciated the chance to compete again after their month-long absence.

“Those two weeks felt like the most boring time in the world,” Igbokwe said. “It felt amazing to get back on the floor.”

White said the Panthers will not go on the road to Boston College on Sunday, after a string of postponements in the Eagles’ program. He said Pitt could potentially play its next game against Clemson on Jan. 26.