Women’s basketball counting on continuity this season

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Images courtesy of Pitt Athletics

The Pitt women’s basketball team crowds around head coach Lance White during a game against Boston College last season.

By Will McGlynn, For The Pitt News

After a disappointing loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament last year, Pitt women’s basketball is back, with lots of familiar faces ready to avenge last year’s defeat. This team boasts an experienced roster this season, full of seasoned veterans determined to overcome an underdog label.

The Panthers lost just one member of last year’s starting five. Pitt retained its leading scorer in senior guard Jayla Everett, and fellow starters junior starting point guard Dayshanette Harris, junior shot-blocking forward Rita Igbokwe and junior forward Amber Brown — a key rebounder.

This season is all about “leveling up” in the college basketball world for the Panthers. Head coach Lance White said the key to taking that next step lies in his team’s mentality. 

“Whenever you take that jump, as a program, it’s about mentality,” White said. “We were in a lot of games last season but now we need to learn how to win them.“

The Panthers come in with lots of experience and offensive firepower. Harris looks to lead this team with another stellar season after finishing third in the ACC in assists and first among the Panthers in steals in just her sophomore season.

Harris explained that her distributing really opened up the floor for herself and everyone else to be successful on offense.

“I really just focus on trying to get my teammates involved and getting them open shots,” Harris said.

White said his team could play lots of inside-out ball this season with a strong paint presence in Igbokwe and fifth-year transfer from Youngstown State, Mary Dunn, as well as good shooting on the perimeter. He also said he thinks the team can run the ball in transition.

“I want to be a coach of a team that scores 80 points per game,” White said. “We’re going to run the basketball and really be an exciting team that will run the ball in the transition off steals.” 

Jayla Everett was last year’s leading scorer, and the offensive star is poised for a stellar senior season as well. Everett shot 35% from three and finished eighth in the conference in scoring last season. Everett was also just the second Panther to ever earn All-ACC honors when she was named an all-conference honorable mention last season. 

“My last two seasons I have really just focused on shooting the ball,” Everett said. “But this season I feel like I have expanded my game with driving and pull-up jumpers.”

The team struggled last season on the defensive side of the ball, giving up the most points per game in the ACC last year. White explained that rebounding could open up more opportunities for full-court and on-ball pressure, especially given how much depth the team has.

“One of our biggest challenges has been defensive rebounding,” White said. “If we can get those rebounds and limit teams to one shot, that will really help us.” 

Everett also said she feels a lot more confident going into this year because it feels like she and her teammates really understand the purpose of their defensive scheme. 

“A lot of us are starting to understand what the defense is for, and aren’t just out there doing the defense,” Everett said. “I think we trust each other a lot more now, as far as being in the lane.”

There is a real sense of family that brings the new and old players together, according to Everett. Even after a fairly successful first two years, during which she earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors, Everett decided to enter the transfer portal and move from New Mexico to Pittsburgh going into her junior season.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand that this really is a family atmosphere,” Everett said. “I just felt welcomed here.”

The Panthers have brought in some new faces to aid their returning starters as well, such as 6-foot-3 fifth-year forward Mary Dunn. Dunn was a star at Youngstown State, putting up 16.4 points per game, along with 5.9 rebounds per game on an efficient 51.4% field goal percentage in her senior season.

“Mary brings maturity and an understanding of the game,” White said. “She is used to being the best player on the court, and brings tons of confidence.”

The Panthers also brought in first-year forward Maliyah Johnson, who was a productive high school prospect, scoring 18.5 points and grabbing 12.0 rebounds per game in her senior season. She won two Ohio state championships and multiple district championships in her time at Africentric Early College as well.

This season is about simply bringing the energy each day and buying into the process,” Everett said. “Every day we come in, we want to give 2% more and get 2% better.”

Since the team has been around each other for so long, the daily approach has been infectious. 

White said he had never had a team with this much depth and experience before. 

But the team, while experienced, has suffered many losses in conference play, and is determined to turn things around this season.

“My biggest motivator is having only won 10 games in my college career,” Harris said. “Now I feel like I know what it takes to win and be competitive in the ACC.” 

She said the team has developed trust and understanding about what it takes to win.

This year is about redemption for the Panthers, and shaking off that feeling of defeat from previous years. This experienced group has clear goals and motives this season. White said he wants to see the group break through deeper into the postseason. 

“We want to play in March,” he said.

The Panthers open the 2021-22 campaign on Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. against Radford at the Pete. The game will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.

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