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Moving on: Panthers to face Vols in second round of NCAA Tournament

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Despite the attention that senior point guard Brianna Kiesel’s performance commanded all season long, a freshman led the way on Saturday.

Forward Stasha Carey scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds — both team highs — to guide her Pitt women’s basketball team to a 51-40 first-round victory over No. 7-seed University of Tennessee at Chattanooga over the weekend.

But Carey, playing in her first career NCAA Tournament game, said the team always had aspirations past just Chattanooga.

“We’re looking at staying in Tennessee until Monday, and taking the ride as far as we can go,” she said before the game.

Now, Kiesel and Carey face an even greater challenge on Monday when they play No. 2=seed University of Tennessee (28-5, 15-1 SEC) in Knoxville, Tenn., the Volunteers’ home court, at 6:40 p.m. on ESPN2.

“I don’t know if any of us would have envisioned having the opportunity to play Tennessee on their home floor in this second round of the NCAA Tournament,” Pitt head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said in a release. “We know that it poses a great challenge and, with that, a great opportunity.”

Pitt wouldn’t have that opportunity if it was not for Carey’s dominating performance on Saturday. She gave her Panthers a late 10-point lead to seal the game by collecting a loose ball, putting it up for a layup and drawing a foul in the process for a three-point play.

The performance was Carey’s — team-best — seventh double-double of the season and her second in a row.

Kiesel chipped in 13 points and three assists, putting her over 1,900 assists in her career. She now needs three assists on Monday to move into fifth all-time in Pitt’s career assists list.

Kiesel and Carey will both have to play as well as they have lately for the Panthers (20-11, 9-7 ACC) to reach the Sweet 16, as the Volunteers were ranked No. 6 in the country before tournament selection.

The now-No. 2 tournament seed defeated No. 15 seed Boise State University on Saturday, 72-61. Junior forward Bashaara Graves dominated, scoring a career-high 24 points on an efficient 9-of-11 shooting and tacking on five rebounds in the win.

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said that Graves was “an anchor” for the team in the win.

“When she hits, when she plays well inside, that is how it opens up,” Warlick said. “She needs to play the way she played and we need to get her the ball. That is what we do.”

Senior guard Ariel Massengale supported Graves, chipping in 18 points and five rebounds of her own.

Looking ahead, Warlick said the team will plan around Carey and Pitt’s inside game.

“I think Pitt gets the ball inside a little more, moves the ball,” Warlick said. “We will go back and watch the tape and prepare for them. I’m sure it is going to be a lot different than how we prepared for Boise State.”

The last time the two teams met also came in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In 2007, Pitt hosted No. 1-seed Tennessee in the Petersen Events Center and lost 68-54. Tennessee went on to win the national championship.

Warlick said that though her team will come into the game as favorites and boast a home-court advantage, it will not underestimate the Panthers.

“I don’t think any game is a given. I really don’t,” she said. “I think women’s basketball is getting better. There are better coaches. There are better players.”

McConnell-Serio said she wants her players to enjoy the tournament atmosphere, but added that they are still focused on the next opponent.

“We will play with everything to gain and nothing to lose,” she said. “We’ll still be excited for the opportunity. This will be an incredible environment. I want our players to enjoy this incredible opportunity.”

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Moving on: Panthers to face Vols in second round of NCAA Tournament