Column | Women’s basketball deserves their winning season


Jonathan Guo | Staff Photographer

Lance White, head coach of Pitt women’s basketball, at their game against Clemson on Sunday.

By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer

Taking a look at Pitt athletics as a whole since 2017, the athletic department has reached incredible new heights. Pat Narduzzi led the football team to its first ACC Championship, Jay Vidovich earned men’s soccer a berth in two NCAA college cups, volleyball coach Dan Fisher led women’s volleyball to back-to-back Final Fours and it feels like there are so many more accomplishments coming in the next few years.

Athletic director Heather Lyke is the common denominator for all of these accomplishments. Lyke was responsible for several contract extensions, including Vidovich’s, Fisher’s and Narduzzi’s. Ever since Pitt hired her in 2017, she has recruited eight new head coaches and started a new chapter in Pitt athletics — a winning chapter. In 2021, the Sports Business Journal even nominated Lyke for Division I Athletic Director of the Year.

As far as Lyke’s record goes, it’s almost spotless, especially considering men’s basketball’s success so far in 2023. But there’s one glaring exception — women’s basketball. Lance White has coached the team since Lyke hired him in 2018, and since his first season, the team’s record has only worsened. 

White’s season ended with an 11-20 record in 2019, winning only 35.5% of their games. The Panthers ended 5-14 in 2021, which brought their percentage of wins down to 26.3%. Their 2022-23 season hasn’t shown much improvement either, with a record so far of 0-6 in conference play and 7-10 overall. 

Throughout White’s tenure, the team has gone through several losing streaks all within conference play, placing women’s basketball at the bottom of the ACC year after year. After White’s first season, the Panthers were seeded No. 14. After White’s most recent season, they were seeded No. 15.

Despite White’s horrific record, he usually starts out his season with a couple of wins, but those wins are always short lived. Pitt has a habit of losing their momentum as the season goes on, starting out strong in the beginning, but when it comes down to conference play it always finds itself toward the bottom of the ACC.

During White’s first year of coaching in the 2018-19 season, the team started out with an okay record, alternating between wins and losses in their first six games, leaving them 3-3. But once the Panthers got to conference play in January, they struggled mightily, losing 11 games straight. Nine of those losses were by double digits. 

In 2022, the Panthers started out strong and went 8-2 during the first 10 games of their season. Despite most of the victories coming against inferior opponents, things were looking up for White’s team. But again, conference play started and the Panthers got their wake up call in a 84-59 drubbing against No. 2 NC State. They only won two games in the ACC after that. 

This season, Pitt is starting out with that same trend. The Panthers won their first five games in a row in non-conference play and won each game with leads in the double digits. History is repeating itself this season as the Panther are 0-6 in conference play so far. 

If Pitt women’s basketball ever wants to compete at a higher caliber and possibly compete for titles, then the program needs to make changes. So far, White has shown the athletic department that his team is only capable of beating inferior nonconference teams. He hasn’t shown any signs that his teams can compete in the ACC considering his 8-64 conference record.

So, what exactly is White doing wrong? For starters, White is known for making erratic substitutions throughout the game. This is often good because it gives a lot of the players on his team a chance to play in game situations and learn. But it also makes it difficult for the players to find a rhythm, which is the case for his team. It’s harder to maintain a flow, especially on offense for Pitt, when new players are coming in and out of the game every few seconds. 

Another issue this season is Pitt’s offense. Oftentimes it seems that the Panthers are their own worst enemy with their inability to retain possession. In almost every game Pitt plays it amasses substantially more turnovers than its opponents. For instance, in Sunday’s loss against Clemson, Pitt racked up 21 turnovers compared to Clemson’s 14. In its loss to Louisville, Pitt had 18 compared to the Cardinals 11.

White’s subpar tenure calls for significant changes if the Panthers want to compete at the same level as their conference counterparts. White’s five seasons have shown definitively that he is unable to put his team on an ACC level. Fortunately for the program, Lyke has made an impression at Pitt of reforming programs and building winning teams, which is exactly what women’s basketball needs.

Lyke should be proud of the athletics department she’s built, but her work isn’t done yet. The women’s basketball team is an establishment to the University, originating in 1914 as the first sport that women could compete in at a varsity level at Pitt. The program deserves a record-breaking season the same way Narduzzi, Vidovich and Fisher got theirs, but it seems clear that Lance White isn’t the one to get them there.