Panthers’ ranked-opponent struggle continues, fall 77-63 to Notre Dame


Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt junior guard Emy Hayford (4) runs with the ball during Sunday’s game against Notre Dame at the Petersen Events Center.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s basketball (10-9, 1-7 ACC) hosted No. 19 Notre Dame (14-4, 5-2 ACC) on Sunday, and lost to the Fighting Irish 77-63. The game was the Panthers’ sixth against a ranked opponent — their fifth in the ACC — and they have lost all six of those games.

It didn’t look like Notre Dame was the ranked team at the start of the first quarter, as Pitt met every Irish bucket with a bucket of its own. This included senior guard Jayla Everett stealing a Notre Dame pass and taking it all the way for an easy layup.

At the first media timeout, the game was tied at eight and neither team had made a 3-pointer. That was until junior guard Destiny Strother checked into the game and hit threes on consecutive possessions, gIving the Panthers a 14-8 lead.

But the Panthers gave up a 9-2 run, finishing the quarter trailing 17-16. Along with Strother, Notre Dame graduate student forward Maya Dodson and first-year guard Olivia Miles finished the frame with six points.

The Irish picked up where they left off in the second quarter and scored the first five points. Including the first quarter, Notre Dame went on an extended 14-2 extended run. But Strother’s hot shooting hand put this run to an end. The Flint, Michigan, native hit two more threes and a mid-range jumper to bring her total in the half to 14 points and a near-perfect 5 for 6 from the field. Strother described her thought process during her perfect shooting line through 20 minutes.

“I just came out ready to play,” Strother said. “I didn’t have anything on my mind, and [my teammates] just found me when I was open.”

The two teams traded buckets after the media timeout, then the Pitt defense came up with a steal which turned into a 3-pointer for first-year forward Maliyah Johnson. Sophomore guard Taisha Exanor poked the ball away during the next play, and finished the fast-break layup on the other basket.

The Panthers tied the game, and took a two-point lead when junior guard Dayshanette Harris hit two free throws. Notre Dame came back with a couple free throws of its own, and the halftime buzzer sounded with the game tied at 39.

Head coach Lance White complimented the mental toughness of the team, but understood that they have to keep that mindset throughout the entire game.

“I was so proud of their mentality,” White said. “There’s a lot of good, but we have to have this mentality for 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes.”

At the start of the second half, the Irish started to play like the team that beat Pitt by 16 points in their last meeting, outscoring the Panthers 23-16 in the third quarter. Despite Everett’s 10 points and Pitt’s six points off turnovers in the frame, it couldn’t stop the Notre Dame offense, which shot 8 for 15 and added a 3-pointer in the quarter. The Irish led 62-55 after 30 minutes of play.

Strother’s hot shooting cooled off in the third, attempting and missing two shots from beyond the arc. The cold streak continued in the fourth quarter, with all three of her long-range attempts missing the mark. She finished the night with 14 points on 5 for 9 shooting.

Pitt only scored eight points in the fourth quarter, thanks to its abysmal 3 for 18 shooting clip. The Panther offensive inefficiency was more than enough for Notre Dame to pull away and seal the 77-63 win.

White said the next step for the Panthers is the hardest, which is winning games against tough opponents. Everett echoed her coach’s message, despite any growing frustration.

“We do get frustrated a lot,” Everett said. “But we’re learning to trust [the coaches], and what they have planned for us.”

Everett finished with a team-high 15 points, but the 35% season-shooter shot an uncharacteristic 6 for 23, including 2 for 12 from distance. Meanwhile, Dodson finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 50% from the field and making all five of her free throws.

The Panthers will travel to Clemson for their next game for a matchup with the Tigers on Thursday. White detailed what his team has to do to bounce back on the road. 

“It’s step-by-step for us,” White said. “You look at the standings and we’ve played every top team in the conference, now we gotta go win the games ahead of us, and it’s about coming every day and going to work.”

The game will stream on ACC Network Extra at 7 p.m. as the Panthers look to get back on track.