Women’s basketball: Pitt loses first game of season at Minnesota

By Torie Wytiaz

A new initiative hoping to increase strength-of-schedule brought the Panthers and the Golden… A new initiative hoping to increase strength-of-schedule brought the Panthers and the Golden Gophers together for their first meeting Wednesday night.

But it proved to be a disappointing one for Pitt, which fell 73-63 to Minnesota.

Although typical early nonconference schedules are often filled with lopsided matchups against small conference teams, the Panthers were able to engage in a tough game against a talented opponent.

The game was part of the inaugural “Super Six Series” that seeks to provide the top national conferences (Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-10 and SEC) with high levels of competition early in the season.

Each participating team will be guaranteed two games in the series, one home and one away. The Panthers began playing the role of the visitor.

Historically, the Panthers have not fared well against members of the Big Ten, compiling just a 26-45 record before Wednesday’s contest. After the defeat, the Panthers added to the loss column on that dismal statistic.

But for most of the first half of the game, the Panthers managed to maintain a lead and extend it to six points before the Golden Gophers began to mount a comeback, resulting in an 11-0 scoring run to end the half with a 41-34 advantage.

The Gophers’ lead only grew in the second half of play, culminating in the final 10-point margin of victory.

“They [Minnesota] played very well tonight and exceptionally hard,” Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato said. “I think they are a physical team and I thought they were in their groove. Defensively, they were up on us.”

The Panthers (1-1) were led offensively by senior guards Brittaney Thomas and Jania Sims who contributed 24 and 16 points, respectively.

Balanced scoring was vital in the Panthers’ first victory, as four players earned double-double performances. Some remnants of that carried over to the efforts against the Minnesota.

Three Panthers recorded double-digit scoring totals in last night’s contest as Thomas and Sims were joined by fellow senior guard Taneisha Harrison’s 12 points.

“We need to work on finishing the game strong and closing out games,” Sims said. “The lead we had in the first half got away from us.”

Still, the offensive effort was not enough to overcome that of Minnesota, who had four players in the double-digit point range by the conclusion of the game.

A reason for the offensive execution of the Golden Gophers might be found in the team’s 20 assists, which showed a tendency to spread the ball in order to find the best shot.

In contrast, the Panthers tallied just nine assists in the game.

Senior forward Chelsea Cole led all players with a game high 12 rebounds, giving her double-digit rebounds in both games of the season.

Yet after a 15-point performance against Youngstown State in the season opener, Cole was held scoreless last night.

The reduction of Cole’s scoring was indicative of the Panthers’ struggles inside the paint and inability to generate offense from underneath the basket.

As a team, the Panthers were out-rebounded by the Golden Gophers 37-31.

“I think Minnesota completely took our posts out of the game and that is a big part of what we do, Berenato said. “They took Chelsea Cole and Shayla Scott out of the game and that is probably where the game was determined. Minnesota also finished the game with a shooting percentage of 45 percent from the field while the Panthers posted a 38 percent figure.”

The long-range shot was also a key to success for Minnesota, as the Golden Gophers went 7 for 15 from behind the arc.

Minnesota guard China Antoine led the way with all of her 18 points coming off of her six three-point shots on seven attempts.

Pitt freshmen Ashlee Anderson, Leeza Burdgess, Marquel Davis and Yasmin Fuller earned playing time coming off the bench to relieve an all-senior starting line-up.

The young Panthers contributed four of the 63 total points for the Panthers, with Anderson and Fuller each scoring a basket.

The Panthers will return to play Radford at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday in search of their second home victory of the season.