Women’s basketball off to 2-0 start after downing Radford, Lafayette

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Patrick Cavanagh | Staff Photographer

Pitt forward junior Amber Brown (5) pushes past Lafayette guard and forward senior Makaila Wilson (30) during Friday’s game against Lafayette College at the Petersen Events Center.

By Will McGlynn, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s basketball started its season with an 82-63 win against Radford University at the Petersen Events Center. They followed this up with yet another home victory against Lafayette two days later, 72-63.

The Panthers came out hot in the first half of each game, sticking to head coach Lance White’s promise to play fast. The Panthers went into halftime in both games with double-digit leads. They set up a full-court press off of made baskets that rattled the opposing guards, leading to lots of tipped passes, travels and turnovers galore that the Panthers commonly turned into points. 

Against Radford, the Panthers rode this momentum into the second half. Senior guard Jayla Everett continued to hit shot after shot and the Panthers were fantastic in transition. Everett finished the night with an efficient 23 points. Junior guard Emy Hayford also had an outstanding performance, missing just one shot on her way to 15 points. This blowout was exactly the win the Panthers were looking for to kick off their year.

Lafayette, on the other hand, gave the Panthers some trouble. After going up 35-22 at half, the Panthers struggled to close out the Leopards. Lafayette trimmed the lead down to just five points going into the fourth quarter and came within one in the final frame.

Pitt junior guard Emy Hayford (4) attempts to make a basket at Wednesday’s game against Radford University at the Petersen Events Center. (Hannah Wilson | Staff Photographer)

Lafayette hit a 3-pointer to chip the lead to one with 3:40 left in the game. Then junior center Rita Igbokwe laid the ball in off of a pass from Everett to make the score 64-61. This seemed to be the final spark the Panthers needed to seal the game, as they went on a 10-2 run to close out a much-needed win.

Igbokwe scored an efficient 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds bouncing back after a subpar offensive outing against Radford. She was dominant in the paint all night, blocking four shots and disrupting many more. Igbokwe holds the record at Pittsburgh for the most blocks by a first year and continues to build on that legacy.

During each game, the Panthers capitalized on fast-break lay-ins and drew fouls on the break, although they did struggle to convert on some of those free throws. Pitt shot just over 50% from the line in those two games.

The Panthers also struggled to limit turnovers in each game. They had 18 turnovers in each contest, many of which occurred in the paint. The turnovers ultimately proved insignificant due to Pitt dominating the rebounding battle by double digits in both games.

There was some serious commitment to this new fast-paced play style from White and the Panthers as they ensured that there were fresh legs on the court at all times. With so many different ball handlers as well as two main paint presences in Igbokwe and graduate transfer forward Mary Dunn available, Coach White reached deep into his bench during both games.

After she was elected team captain before the season opener along with Hayford and junior forward Amber Brown, Everett was stellar in each of these first two games. Everett put up 20 or more points in each of the first two games and excelled from mid-range. Everett created her own shot, found Igbokwe in pick and roll and continued to shine with her off-the-ball movement.

Everett said following the Radford game that this year is the “happiest she has ever been” playing basketball.

That joy and positivity are infectious to Everett’s teammates as well. Hayford said the team really feeds off Everett’s confidence which encourages players to keep shooting and playing hard. Hayford said this year the Panthers are really trying to “bring our own energy” so that White doesn’t have to and can focus on tactical planning.

“The player leadership allows me to hold them accountable to a different standard,” White said. “Anytime I get the hand from Jayla, I know that means they got this.”

Dunn debuted as a Panther against Radford, dropping 11 points and eight rebounds. Dunn was a force in the paint all night and surprised fans and defenders alike when she stepped out to the 3-point line.

White even made a point to welcome the graduate student to the Panthers when he grabbed the microphone on the court after the game to introduce the star from Youngstown. Dunn received a warm welcome and told the crowd that she could not be happier to be playing at home and that this first win was just the beginning.

The Panthers’ success came while missing a couple of key players. Junior guard Dayshanette Harris did not participate in either of the Panthers’ first two matchups but is expected to return to action soon, according to White. The Panthers are also missing redshirt sophomore forward Cynthia Ezeja who is coming off of ACL surgery and is hopeful to return in February.

The Panthers next play Long Island University at home on Wednesday.

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