Women’s Basketball: Panthers reach winning record

By Greg Trietley

In recent games, the Pitt women’s basketball team has put together well-balanced scoring… In recent games, the Pitt women’s basketball team has put together well-balanced scoring attacks and solid rebounding efforts, but it still didn’t have one thing: a winning record.

That changed Tuesday night when the Panthers defeated the Providence Friars 60-57 at the Petersen Events Center in a game that featured comebacks on both sides and a coach tossing clothing onto the court.

Taneisha Harrison’s basket with 31.3 seconds to play gave the Panthers a 58-57 lead and proved to be the difference. Pitt held off Providence’s final push, and two free throws from freshman Yasmin Fuller clinched the victory.

With the nail-biting win, Pitt moved to 13-12 on the season (5-7 Big East) and passed the Friars (11-13, 4-8 Big East) in conference standings. The Panthers have won four of their past five games.

“We played like it was a must-win,” head coach Agnus Berenato said in a post-game press conference. “We were tied [in the standings]. At the end of 40 minutes, somebody was going to separate. Who was going to do it?”

Harrison finished with 20 points, but her last two were the ones that mattered.

“The first half, she really was struggling with her shot,” Berenato said. “I told her, ‘T, you’re our leader, and we have a lot of freshman playing. You’re our Energizer Bunny, and you have to take us through this.’”

Harrison played all 40 minutes.

Early fast-break turnovers put Pitt in a double-digit hole before the game’s 10-minute mark, as Providence forward Mi-Khida Hankins pounded the Panthers inside. Hankins had 12 points by halftime.

“We were so anxious,” Berenato said. “Throwing the ball away, missing lay-ups — I haven’t seen us play that way in a long time. It was nerves, anxious pressure.”

But the Panthers held Hankins scoreless in the second half. A 14-0 run pulled Pitt from a 46-40 deficit into control of the game. The Panthers took their first lead since the game’s opening minute when Fuller converted a 3-point play with less than seven minutes remaining.

Near the end of the Panthers’ run, Providence coach Phil Seymore threw his suit coat on the court in frustration over a non-call as the teams jostled for a rebound. He received a technical but was not ejected. He never put the coat back on.

The outburst fueled Providence to a comeback of its own. Two turnovers from Harrison in the game’s final minutes gave the Friars a late 57-56 lead.

“I think we had a few mental lapses,” Chelsea Cole said. “We got the lead, we got too excited and we started to turn the ball over. But then we weathered the storm by getting stops and getting scores.”

Harrison made up for her errors with the game-winner.

Cole finished with another double-double, her Big East-leading 14th of the year. She finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

“She was amazing tonight,” Berenato said. “She was everywhere. I also thought she did a really great job on hedging and helping.”

Cole’s dominance in the paint covered up a poor night for Pitt’s perimeter shooting. The Panthers didn’t hit a 3-pointer all night — not that they minded. They’re making noise in the Big East a month before the conference tournament.

Berenato said that the early-season schedule gave Pitt a record not indicative of its talent.

“We had a really tough schedule,” she said. “For us to weather the storm in December and January … I just kept saying, ‘We have to get to February, and things will start to click.’”

Pitt returns to action Saturday afternoon against No. 19 West Virginia in the annual Pink the Petersen event, which collects money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The Panthers upset the Mountaineers two weeks ago in Morgantown, 60-53.