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Career game from Diop not enough as Pitt loses Big Ten/ACC Challenge game

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Yacine Diop (12)  Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Yacine Diop (12) Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Yacine Diop (12) Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Chris Puzia / Assistant Sports Editor

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The Big Ten has not been kind to Suzie McConnell-Serio this week.

After two wins against teams in the conference during her first season as Pitt’s women’s basketball coach last year, Michigan became the second straight Big Ten team to hand her Panthers a loss this season, following No. 6 Maryland on Nov. 28.

Despite a season-best effort from Yacine Diop, Pitt (4-3) fell on the road to Michigan (7-0) Thursday night, 82-45, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Last year, the Panthers hosted and easily dispatched the Wolverines, 85-64, and in the 2014 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Pitt matched up with Ohio State and won, 78-74.

Pitt dug itself an early hole with sloppy play, turning the ball over five times in the first six minutes of the game, leading to eight Michigan points.

The Wolverines continued to attack inside — its first seven field goals all came in the paint.

Pitt hung around in the first quarter despite the early mistakes. The team cut its turnovers and used jumpers from Diop and freshman forward Kalista Walters to stay within five points in the first quarter. But Diop and sophomore forward Stasha Carey each picked up two early first-quarter fouls, limiting McConnell-Serio’s rotation. Michigan immediately capitalized, attacking the paint and getting out in transition quickly.

Diop, who averaged 9.7 points per game entering Thursday, finished with a game and career-high 26 points on an efficient 12-15 shooting against Michigan.

After a close first period, though, Michigan gained big separation, opening up a 19-point second-quarter lead, thanks to a 9-0 run to start the quarter and key baskets from sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, who finished with 24 points.

Pitt continued to turn the ball over in the first half, with Diop responsible for five of the team’s first 11 giveaways. Though she scored a game-high 15 first-half points on a perfect 7-7 shooting, her turnovers and two fouls hurt the team.

Michigan’s opportunistic combination of offensive rebounds and takeaways led to 26 points off of 24 Pitt turnovers in the game. The Panthers trailed behind the entire game.

Michigan’s balanced offensive onslaught gave it a decisive 46-24 halftime lead, and it never looked back.

In the second half, Michigan opened that advantage up to a game-high 37 points, as Flaherty took over. Meanwhile, the Panthers continued to struggle with ball control, turning the ball over four times in a scoreless four-minute span late in the third quarter.

Behind Diop, no Panther scored more than four points, which came from Walters.

After a slow start from 3-point range, the Wolverines heated up and finished shooting 56 percent from long range.

Pitt sputtered after scoring 13 points in the first quarter, its highest output of the game. Michigan’s lowest scoring quarter by contrast was the last, with 18. The Panthers did not score for the final 4 minutes, 28 seconds of the game.

Pitt has now lost three of its last four games and will return to the Petersen Events Center on Sunday for a 3 p.m. matchup against Holy Cross.

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Career game from Diop not enough as Pitt loses Big Ten/ACC Challenge game