Kiesel drops 21 as Panthers blow past Hokies

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Kiesel drops 21 as Panthers blow past Hokies

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Brianna Kiesel speedily erased any doubts Thursday night about her ability to perform with a left wrist injury, though she may have extra motivation, as she and her team were playing for head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio’s 150th career win.

The senior guard set the tone for Pitt’s, and her individual, night when she hit a 3-point basket on her team’s first possession of the game.

She would again lead her team in scoring, posting 21 points as the Pitt women’s basketball team (16-8, 6-5 ACC) defeated Virginia Tech 53-35 at the Petersen Events Center. Kiesel went on to hit two more quick 3-pointers, scoring 11 of Pitt’s first 13 points, and seemed to be the only player on the court who could score at first. But Kiesel said much of that offense stemmed from defensive pressure, as Pitt forced 10 steals in the game compared to Virginia Tech’s four.

“It’s contagious,” she said. “When one person steps up on defense, everyone steps up.”

Both teams struggled shooting for stretches in the first half, combining to shoot four of 23 over a six-minute span. But Kiesel said she still encouraged her teammates to continue shooting.

“If I got mad every time I missed a shot, I’d be one angry person,” she said. “You just have to set them up in a good place to get a good shot.”

Kiesel, who suffered a left wrist injury during Sunday’s loss to Louisville, said her wrist felt “good” prior to game time.

“Thankfully, I’m right-handed,” she added.

McConnell-Serio said the team wasn’t sure of Kiesel’s status until earlier in the day, when trainers taped up her wrist. But the senior continued her stellar ACC play, shooting four of seven from long range.

“Bri was Bri tonight,” McConnell-Serio said. “We went into the last couple practices not knowing her status, but the players responded.”

Despite grabbing several early offensive rebounds and creating more shots during that stretch, the Hokies (10-15, 1-11 ACC) only made two of their first eight shots, including a few missed layups.

Midway through the first half, Pitt and Virginia Tech traded shot clock violations, as neither team could effectively penetrate the other’s defense.

Pitt gained a one-point lead when sophomore guard Chelsea Welch made a strong drive to the bucket after an offensive rebound by freshman forward Yacine Diop.

Kiesel extended the Panthers’ lead to five with a couple of quick fast-break layups. She scored 15 of the team’s 24 first-half points. Kiesel has made a habit of coming out of the gate strong – on Feb. 5 at North Carolina State, the senior outscored the entire Wolfpack team 24-20 in the first half.

Kiesel was the only Panther to reach double-digit scoring in the game. Diop was the next highest scorer with eight points, as well as tacking on a team-high nine rebounds. Junior forward Taijah Campbell led Virginia Tech with 11 points and 15 rebounds.

Pitt steadily built its lead to double digits over the first six minutes of the second half, mainly by getting to the foul line. Freshman forward Stasha Carey and senior center Cora McManus bullied the Virginia Tech bigs and earned trips to the foul line.

Efficient 3-point shooting and timely steals leading to fast-break buckets enbled the Panthers to coast for stretches in the second half and still maintain a comfortable double-digit lead. In contrast, Virginia Tech shot two of 16 from long range in the game, never establishing any kind of offensive rhythm.

“We talked about picking up the pressure,” McConnell-Serio said. “It was starting to create our offense, and the pace that we were playing with picked up.”

Sophomore guard Jordan Serio entered the game for the first time with 6:57 remaining and Pitt leading 46-29. She made two free throws after being fouled while driving to the basket.

Virginia Tech outrebounded Pitt 39-37 but only shot 25 percent in the game compared to Pitt’s 40 percent.

“Our entire team had a focus tonight,” McConnell-Serio said. “Virginia Tech runs an offense that kind of lulls you to sleep … I really thought we defended it well.”

The Panthers will take the court again on Sunday afternoon at Wake Forest. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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