Women’s basketball: More than just one Panther stepping up this year

By Kelly Flanigan

Point guard Jania Sims and 6-foot guard Taneisha Harrison usually run the show on the women’s… Point guard Jania Sims and 6-foot guard Taneisha Harrison usually run the show on the women’s basketball team.

Head coach Agnus Berenato even refers to Sims as the team’s ”quarterback” — its leader.

When Sims and Harrison are on the court together, the unstoppable tandem is one of the best in women’s college basketball. In fact, they have combined for nearly 200 points in just seven games this season.

There is no doubt that Pitt has strong guard play, but the centers and forwards contribute solid efforts, as well. With significant height at both positions, the Panthers will bring down many rebounds this season, as well as score heavily in the paint.

Recently, several other players stepped up and made themselves known as scoring threats for the No. 20 Panthers (7-0). As Big East play approaches, this will become increasingly important.

Junior Chelsea Cole, a 6-foot-3 forward, has made a substantial impact in the paint so far this season. As a starter in five of this season’s games, she averaged almost 28 minutes of play.

She can play at either the four or the five position, but Berenato moved her to the role of five in the Thanksgiving Tournament.

“We felt that Chelsea Cole could be the five rather than the four. Appalachian State was a little quicker than us in the five spot, so we made the switch. Chelsea can contain like a guard and has been in this position for us in the last week of practice during drills,” Berenato said.

Berenato made it a point to say that Cole continues to improve with each game.

On the season, Cole has 72 points and has grabbed 57 rebounds.

“My confidence is going up a lot. It helps that my teammates have the confidence in me to keep giving me the ball and that my coaches have confidence in me,” Cole said.

She collected two double-doubles this season, one against Marshall and the other against Florida.

Another huge presence in the paint, 6-foot-6 center Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson, a sophomore, was selected as an All-Big East Freshman Player last year.

Her accurate shooting from the field pleases Berenato

“I think she finally started feeling a comfort zone where she needs to be on the block. She’s believing that she doesn’t have to put the ball on the ground, she doesn’t have to take six moves, she doesn’t have to go backward. She has to catch and score, and I think she is getting the confidence,” Berenato said.

Prior to a knee injury, Wilson was also a finalist for the USA Basketball U-19 squad.

She started in three of Pitt’s first seven games, scoring 49 points and collecting 27 rebounds.

Kate Popovec, a 6-foot-3 forward, proved last year that she can be competitive in the post position during Big East play.

She has made small but consistent contributions from the bench so far this season. She made her first start in the Youngstown State (0-7) game, where she also collected her first double-double of the year.

Berenato also started Popovec on Saturday against the Western Michigan Broncos (3-4).

The Panthers will look to her throughout the season to boost their inside rebounding game.

Popovec has collected 39 points and 38 rebounds this season.

Three years ago, Pitt won its first 12 games of the season. Now, the women are off to their second best start in program history.

Despite the promising start, Berenato knows her team still has a long way to go.

“We are a young team, we are a different team. We are a work in progress. You have to go through it to get better at it the next time,” she said.