Column | Lance White’s substitutions leave Panthers unable to find rhythm


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Lance White, Pitt women’s basketball head coach.

By Will McGlynn, Staff Writer

Pitt women’s basketball has shown tremendous growth throughout the season with its deep roster of capable players, who have made up an exceptional rebounding and defensive basketball team. But the Panthers haven’t been able to break new ground this season, once again finding themselves towards the bottom of the ACC.

The team started the season with fresh energy and a great non-conference portion of its season. The start to ACC play was when reality set in a bit for the group though, starting their season off with a blowout loss to women’s basketball powerhouse NC State. Ever since then, Pitt has struggled to find success in the ACC, even against opponents considered to be around their levels like Syracuse and Virginia Tech.

Head coach Lance White has done a great job getting his players to buy into his system since the start of the season, encouraging his group to push the ball in transition early and really transform this team into an offensive powerhouse. Players welcomed this strategy, and in non-conference play, Pitt showed signs of turning into an offensive juggernaut with big blowout wins over teams like Radford and Long Island University.

But once Pitt hopped in with the big-name teams, that scoring efficiency quickly faded away. Pitt has had a lot of trouble holding onto the ball, and many of the turnovers have come from key wing pieces.

Junior guard Dayshanette Harris provides a great offensive spark and oftentimes runs the break for the team. But this also leads to her surrendering many turnovers. Junior guard Amber Brown struggled to hold onto the ball late in the game against Syracuse on Sunday, as well. Brown played an exceptional game on the glass and scored the ball, but when it comes down to it, Pitt can’t handle the basketball.

All these extra possessions let other teams pull away, even if they aren’t shooting the ball that well. And the Panthers have limited 3-point shooting abilities, which mainly rely on senior guard Jayla Everett and junior guard Destiny Strother, making it hard for them to catch up when they fall behind.

Pitt has established itself as one of the best interior basketball teams in the country, with tons of capable rebounders and shot blockers like junior center Rita Igbokwe and sophomore forward Liatu King. The question has become, how do the Panthers win games with that strength? They just haven’t been able to quite crack the code, and it’s left them just outside of being a solid team in the conference.

White has acknowledged that Pitt is not where programs like NC State are, but Pitt has made some serious progress from its previous iterations. It seems like the Panthers are always just one step behind some of the ACC stalwarts like North Carolina and Boston College this season — they can’t quite bridge the gap.

One thing the Panthers have had difficulty with this season is finding a true, consistent bench rotation. White likes to put a lot of his players on the floor and give everyone a chance to grow and develop, but at times it appears to make Pitt look uncomfortable.

Harris and many of the guards off the bench appear to struggle to get on the same page on the fly because of how often players are moving in and out. It seems like the Panthers can never really establish a rhythm with their play. White will commonly play 11-12 players for double-digit minutes in each game, which keeps the group fresh, but also mixes players up a bit.

At one point, Pitt was looking to play in March this season and become a real threat in the ACC, but they once again seemed to fall short. The Panthers have trouble closing out big ACC matchups, losing many by just a few points. Winning close games and becoming a prolific offense have proved out of reach for this group up until this point, commonly staying below 60 points against the elite level ACC competition.

Despite the team’s shortcomings in its record, the group should definitely be remembered in the history of Pitt women’s basketball. Fiery leaders like Everett and Brown have brought the group up time and time again, and they tell the media any chance they get about how proud they are of the team.

Players like Igbokwe have come up huge all season, blocking shots left and right whenever the ball is in the paint. White has gotten this group to fight until the end of every game they are in, even when they are getting beat upon. He and his group take each game seriously, and treat them as opportunities to grow.

Barring a miracle in the ACC tournament, the Panthers won’t be making the Big Dance this season, but they have a bright future with a team full of juniors and sophomores this season. Many of the team’s top rebounders are returning next season, as well as great ball handlers like Harris. The biggest loss for Pitt is Everett, the flamethrower and electric scorer. All of her teammates seem to feed off of her confidence on offense — losing Everett will certainly be a difficult adjustment.

The Panthers are getting to the end of the road, with their last five regular season games approaching. They will play Boston College on the road on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ACC Network Extra, looking to snap a four-game losing streak.