Women’s Basketball: Harrison, Cole set career highs in win

By Jay Huerbin

It was a special day for the No. 15 Pitt women’s basketball team at the Petersen Events Center… It was a special day for the No. 15 Pitt women’s basketball team at the Petersen Events Center last night.

Guard Taneisha Harrison, who set a new personal best in points, and forward Chelsea Cole, who finished a career-high in rebounds, led the Panthers to a dominant 77-52 win over visiting Valparaiso.

Head coach Agnus Berenato celebrated the win by blowing out the candles on a cake. She celebrates her birthday today.

Harrison led the way for the Panthers (8-0), who didn’t need much time to separate themselves from the Crusaders (3-4). Her 27 points broke her previous career-high of 25, a feat she accomplished on Nov. 24 against St. Francis.

“I just felt like she was on fire. It was just one of those nights were she was in the zone,” Berenato said. “Let’s not just say a career night in shooting. I think she got a lot of that from other things, off of her defense.”

Harrison said her mental preparation helped her execute on the court.

“I was just focused a lot more. I missed a few shots early, but I knew my team had confidence in me,” she said. “It’s just being focused and ready for a game and knowing the coaches have confidence in me.”

The Panthers and Crusaders traded points early in the game before starters Cole, Harrison, Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson, Jania Sims and Shayla Scott overmatched Valparaiso’s defense.

Roughly three and a half minutes into the first half, Wilson took a pass from Cole and made a layup to give the Panthers a 7-6 lead. Wilson scored an easy layup for a three-point Panther lead 44 seconds later. A free throw and layup later, the Crusaders tied the game at 9.

But Wilson battled under the Crusaders’ net and was fouled while putting in another layup. The ensuing free throw led to a 12-9 Panthers lead — a lead they never surrendered — with 14:59 remaining in the first half.

Wilson finished the game with 11 points and five rebounds.

Her early first-half play sparked a 15-2 Panthers run during the next eight minutes, which included a nice play by junior Brittaney Thomas. After sloppy play by both teams in the Crusaders’ end, Thomas got a steal as both she and the ball were heading out of bounds. Neither Thomas nor Sims converted on their jumpers at the other end of the floor, but Sims was fouled and hit both her free throws.

Berenato attributed the first-half run to strong play on defense.

“What helped us get going was our defense,” Berenato said. “Our defense is what spurred on our offense. Today we had energy, we had emotion.”

By the end of the first half, the Panthers held a 36-15 lead and Harrison scored 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting and Cole had 11 rebounds.

The second half saw Harrison continue her dominance on the court. She finished the game converting 11-of-22 field goals, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.

While Harrison dominated shooting, Cole led the Panthers with 15 rebounds. Her previous high was 12 against South Florida last season.

“We’ve been working on rebounding in practice, especially with the post because that’s something we know we’ve been lacking on defense,” Cole said. “I think that was something that helped us get going.”

After a Scott free throw less than two minutes into the second half, the Crusaders never got within fewer than 20 points of the Panthers. Scott finished the game with 13 points.

The Panthers will head to State College this weekend to take on Penn State in an afternoon matchup on Saturday. Tipoff for the game against the Nittany Lions is set for 1 p.m.