Women’s basketball: Panthers fall on senior night

By Greg Trietley

Chelsea Cole, Taneisha Harrison, Shayla Scott and Jania Sims said farewell to the Petersen… Chelsea Cole, Taneisha Harrison, Shayla Scott and Jania Sims said farewell to the Petersen Events Center Monday night as Pitt honored the four seniors in a pre-game senior day ceremony.

Unfortunately, the team couldn’t close the regular season with a dramatic win in its final home game. Sims and Scott both had chances in the paint in the dying seconds of the game, but the Villanova Wildcats held on to knock off the Panthers 54-52.

Down 52-49 in the game’s final minute, Cole drove to the basket and was fouled as she hit her layup. She converted the free throw for a 3-point play to tie the game at 52.

But the Wildcats regained the lead with 15.9 seconds left when Marquel Davis fouled guard Devon Kane as she drove to the rim. Kane made both free throws and secured the Villanova victory after neither Sims nor Scott could convert a buzzer-beating layup.

“It was a tough one,” Scott said in a post-game news conference. “A lot of games are going to come down to the last possession, so we work every day in practice for that … That’s what it came down to tonight.”

Kane’s free throws capped a perfect 9-for-9 night from the charity stripe for Villanova. Pitt, meanwhile, went 8-for-18.

“This game was won and lost on the free throw line,” Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato said after the game. “We were a really good free-throw shooting team. We’ve never shot 44 percent the entire year.”

Villanova (11-18, 3-13 Big East) trailed the entire first half but took the lead on four separate occasions after the intermission. The first three times Pitt fell behind, Scott hit a 3-pointer to bring the Panthers right back into the game.

Scott led all Panthers (13-16, 5-11 Big East) with 20 points, but she couldn’t hit her chance in the paint in the game’s final possession.

“We were going for [Sims] or [Scott]. That’s what we wanted,” Berenato said. “We got two good looks at it, and we missed. We got the play that we wanted … We were able to go in, and we missed a shot. Then we actually got the rebound, and we missed again.”

Sims finished 1-for-9 from the floor for four points. Harrison had 11 points.

Cole’s last-minute 3-point play gave her 10 points to go with her 15 rebounds — her 16th double-double of the season. She, Harrison, Scott and Sims combined for all but three of Pitt’s baskets. The lone nonsenior scorer for Pitt was Ashlee Anderson.

Pitt held Villanova, the lowest-scoring team in the Big East, to a single basket in the game’s first 8:45. The Panthers shut down the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting and opened the game on a nine-minute, 13-2 run.

“Defensively, the first 10 minutes of that first half, we were on point,” Scott said.

But center Heather Scanlon pulled Villanova back into the game and set the stage for the back-and-forth second half with a 3-pointer and several layups over Cole. Scanlon had nine points at intermission and Villanova tied the game at 25 with a 3-point play from Laura Sweeney 15 seconds into the second half.

Pitt didn’t score in the first half’s last 4:40.

“We’ve struggled a little bit with scoring droughts,” Scott said. “It’s definitely something that happened tonight.”

Sweeney finished with team-high 15 points, and Scanlon had 11 points with six rebounds. Eight different Wildcats had at least four points, whereas Pitt’s bench went scoreless.

“Scanlon had her way in the beginning, in the first half,” Berenato said. “In the second half, it was Sweeney.”

The Panthers also honored Selena Nwude and senior manager Mary Jo Winters in the pre-game senior day ceremony. Nwude, formerly a forward for the Panthers, had her career cut short by injury.

Pitt will enter the Big East tournament in Hartford, Conn., as a No. 12 seed and play Friday at noon against No. 13-seed South Florida. The Panthers will try to rebound from Monday’s loss by taking on a team that they beat less than a month ago, 70-66.

“We just take this [loss to Villanova] like any other game,” Cole said after the game. “We learn from it and come hard for next game.”