Thriving freshmen have Pitt looking to future


By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

The first act of Pitt’s two-part competition with Niagara ended with the Pitt men’s basketball team trouncing the Purple Eagles 78-45 on Friday. Not to be outdone, the women’s team also beat Niagara on Monday, 70-54.

But the latter result was less of a foregone conclusion than the men’s game was — especially after head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio’s group lost its season opener to Princeton.

For a Pitt team that went 11-20 and 3-13 in ACC play last year, this year might raise even more questions for the group, most notably in how the freshmen will adjust to collegiate play. That might make or break Pitt’s 2014-2015 season.

Only six Pitt players were on the court for more than 20 minutes Monday night, and only senior point guard Brianna Kiesel played more than 30 minutes. Depth might be a big question for the team heading into conference play later in the season, and McConnell-Serio will lean on her freshmen as the year goes on.

One freshman has already shown that she can handle the adjustment.

Forward Stasha Carey scored 17 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against Niagara, both team highs. The offense seemed to be tailored to go through her at different points in the game, and while the night was not perfect by any means, McConnell-Serio must have been encouraged by the Cleveland native’s play.

Guards Yacine Diop and Aysia Bugg combined for 20 points as well, and both were on the court for just more than half of Monday’s game. Equally impressive were the two freshmen who only had one turnover apiece against the Purple Eagles.

As one of the most experienced players on Pitt’s roster entering the season, Kiesel was expected to carry the offensive burden coming into the season. But she shot 0-for-8 from the field Monday, and the team still managed to score 70 points.

“That’s what makes a team special, when players can step up and contribute the way this team did,” the second-year head coach said after Monday’s win. “Every team is going to target [Kiesel] right from the beginning of the game. And I think as the year progresses, they’ll have to respect other players as well.”

But Carey is not the only newcomer to establish herself early in the season and help supplant Kiesel’s lack of scoring against Niagara.

Graduate-student forward Monica Wignot, playing her first collegiate basketball season, scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 29 minutes on Monday, second most to Kiesel in the latter category.

Wignot played for the Pitt volleyball team for four years, and for her sole season of eligibility as a graduate student, switched to play a key role for McConnell-Serio’s group. 

She tallied seven points and eight rebounds in Pitt’s season opener against Princeton, and she helps bolster the team’s size, as redshirt sophomore center Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson went down with another season-ending injury.

Wignot and Carey filled the center and forward roles on Monday with senior center Cora McManus chipping in 18 minutes off the bench.

For Pitt to improve in McConnell-Serio’s second season, the newcomers will have to step up and contribute big minutes for a shallow Pitt team. However, while the team doesn’t want to look too far ahead, McConnell-Serio signed the No. 31 recruiting class for the 2015-2016 season.

With some talented freshmen currently on the roster, and even more potential talent on the horizon, Pitt’s best years may be in a couple seasons rather than in the current one.

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