Women’s Basketball: Panthers host Gators on Fan Appreciation Night

By Kelly Flanigan

Tonight’s Pitt women’s basketball game is Fan Appreciation Night, and students in attendance… Tonight’s Pitt women’s basketball game is Fan Appreciation Night, and students in attendance will be awarded four loyalty points — twice the amount for a normal women’s basketball game — as the Panthers recognize fans for their continued support throughout the season.

The team will also raise the 2008-2009 Sweet 16 banner in a pregame ceremony for the second consecutive year.

The Panthers defeated North Florida at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday 61-35 in their first regular season game.

Agnus Berenato, head coach, was pleased overall with Tuesday’s performance, which was a School Day promotion. The game started at 11 a.m., and more than 4,000 school children were taken to the Pete on school buses. The Oakland Zoo newspapers given out were also geared toward middle school students

“This was a double win for us,” Berenato said. “It was a win on the court, making us 1-0, and as far as the School Day promotion, it was a good display of athletics and academics. That’s what we are all about.” 

Chelsea Cole led the Panthers in scoring against the Ospreys with 14 points, while Shayla Scott and Taneisha Harrison both contributed 11.

In addition to the positive start to the season and the return of court general and point guard Jania Sims, this week brought more exciting news about the future of the program.

Earlier in the week, Berenato announced the signing of three recruits during the early signing period: forward Kyra Dunn and guards Marquel Davis and Asia Logan. 

“I think it’s an exciting and fabulous class,” Berenato said. “We’re really looking forward to filling some gaps we will have in the future with these three great student-athletes who are all excited to be a part of the Pitt family.” 

Despite this, the team must focus on the Gators, who bring with them a veteran team with much experience.

Although Florida lost two starters from last year in Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson, who combined for 3,349 points during their four-year careers, the team returns with five seniors this season.

Gator head coach Amanda Butler didn’t seem too concerned about the key losses at Florida’s Football Media Day before the season started.

“Marshae and Sha’s contributions to the program go without saying,” Butler said. “Statistically, we’re going to have greater balance offensively and have quality, experienced depth, which is something we haven’t had during my first two years here.”

Last year, after finishing 24-8 in the regular season, Florida fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Connecticut by a score of 87-59. The Huskies went on to win the national championship.

Florida senior Steffi Sorensen, a 5-foot-10 guard who shot almost 40 percent from behind the arc as a walk-on last season, is the team’s returning leading scorer.

Lonnika Thompson also returns for her senior season. She is the team’s starting point guard, and she led the Gators in assists and steals last season.

Sharielle Smith, a senior forward, led the team in rebounding last year and is referred to as the team’s “frontcourt general.”

The Gators do not lack height, either. Junior Ebonie Crawford is 6-foot-3 and serves as the team’s center. At 6-foot-4, sophomore Azania Stewart also gives the Gators a big presence in the paint.

The Panthers will combat Florida’s imposing size with the 6-foot-3 Cole, 6-foot-5 center Selena Nwude and 6-foot-6 center Shawnice Wilson off the bench.

On Tuesday night, in their second regular game of the season, the Gators fell to No. 12 Florida State 66-62 and are now 1-1 this season.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.