Column | Pitt women’s basketball head coach Lance White must win now


TPN File Photo

Lance White, Pitt women’s basketball head coach.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Every year, it seems as though Pitt fans see what head coach Jeff Capel does with the men’s basketball team, and they want him gone. Time and time again, the Panthers fail to make any sort of postseason tournament, and without fail people start to question what the coach did wrong and why he’s still on the sidelines.

But what about the women’s coach? Lance White has led the women’s basketball team since 2018 with very little to show for it. In four seasons as the head coach, his team won just eight conference games in 67 tries, and hasn’t finished higher than second-to-last in the ACC. 

If you see the 12th-place finish in the 2020-21 season and think things were different then, don’t worry. Only 13 teams played that year because Duke and Virginia canceled their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pitt lost to Boston College in that year’s ACC tournament, and that’s when reporters started to notice a trend of losing seasons.

Mike Wilson of the Cardiac Hill blog wrote that after the tournament loss, White coached Pitt through three straight seasons under .500.

“At this point, even back-to-back 20-win seasons would not earn the coach an overall winning record,” Wison wrote.

Although to that point, White did have a signature moment under his belt. Right before the world essentially shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last-place Panthers upset 10-seed Notre Dame. They lost in the next round to Georgia Tech, but it had the makings of a team finally coming together. The next season ended with that first-round exit to 13-seeded Boston College.

If once is an anomaly, twice a coincidence and three times a trend, then White had his chance to break the trend in his fourth season heading the ship. Both the Blue Ribbon Panel and the ACC head coaches picked Pitt to finish 14th out of 15 teams that year. Despite the bleak outlook, the Panthers started off very strong in their non-conference schedule and looked like a team that finally took the next step as a program.

The Panthers collected big wins against Northwestern and Rutgers and went down to the wire against tournament teams like Texas A&M and South Dakota. They went 9-2 in their out-of-conference schedule and had some semblance of hope going into their home match against No. 2 NC State.

That hope was short-lived, as NC State thoroughly handled Pitt 89-54. The Panthers scored no more than 13 points in each of the four quarters. After the game, White described the match as a litmus test for Pitt in ACC play.

“It’s a hard challenge for us,” he said. “We have a lot to work on to be able to compete against those top-5 teams and we’re just not there yet.”

But think back to the last time Pitt and NC State played in Pittsburgh, when the eighth-ranked Wolfpack eviscerated the Panthers 88-44 on Jan 23, 2020. This included a second half where the Pack outscored Pitt 50-14. White took the podium and addressed the media after the loss.

“We’re not mentally tough enough yet to battle teams like NC State,” he said. “We’re moving forward, but we’re just not good enough yet.”

White has put together the same press conferences for the last few seasons, which means he doesn’t have a plan to change. Or he does, and it just hasn’t worked. Pitt finished the season dead-last in the conference last season and blew a 16-point lead in a loss against Duke in the opening round of the ACC tournament.

After another season in the bottom of the ACC barrel, the Panthers went out and got a pretty impressive recruiting class, including transfers from Maryland and Ohio State, the West Virginia and Tennessee 2021 high school players of the year as well as a top-100 prospect from nearby Carnegie, Pennsylvania. White said he was anxious to get all of them out on the floor in the upcoming year.

Despite the incoming talent, they are coming off a season where two stalwarts transferred out of the program. Jayla Everett — last year’s leading scorer at 13.6 ppg — now plays for St. John’s. Rita Igbokwe — last year’s leading blocker and rebounder with 68 and 223 respectively — now plays for Ole Miss. The Panthers will have to match or exceed that production to even have a chance at improving.

Lance White has not been good in his first four seasons at Pitt — that much is clear. But he can make us all forget about that with a good showing in 2022-23. He doesn’t have to win the ACC to keep his job — he just has to prove that he can win games. If he doesn’t, athletic director Heather Lyke should let him walk. 

Pitt starts its season on the road against Coppin State on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.