Pitt women’s basketball loses in home finale

John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

The Pitt women’s basketball team couldn’t save its best for last in its final home game of the season.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-11, 7-8 ACC) defeated the Panthers (12-16, 4-11 ACC) 66-60 in the team’s last contest at the Petersen Events Center this year. The loss was the Panthers’ ninth consecutive at home, where they were winless in conference play this season.

In a low-scoring first quarter, it was the Panthers who got on the board first. Pitt sophomore point guard Aysia Bugg forced a turnover and found fellow sophomore Yacine Diop streaking in transition for a layup.

Georgia Tech wasted no time answering the Diop layup, using a jumper by Katarina Vuckovic to knot the score on the next possession. Pitt answered right back, and the teams spent most of the remaining quarter trading empty possessions and the occasional basket.

Trailing 9-8 with the shot clock turned off, Pitt grabbed the lead when freshman Kalista Walters grabbed her own miss and scored with only six seconds remaining in the quarter.

The Panthers’ hopes of entering the second quarter with the lead quickly vanished. With only six seconds left after the Walters make, Georgia Tech couldn’t get the ball up the court to find Vuckovic on the wing for a deep 3-point basket as the buzzer sounded.

“We just stopped playing defense,” Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.

Instead of leading by one, the Panthers found themselves trailing by two points when the second quarter started. In the early minutes, Georgia Tech took advantage of an inefficient Panthers offense as Pitt had no answer defensively for Zaire O’Neil.

After a pair of layups from Imani Tilford, O’Neil added six straight points of her own as Georgia Tech clawed out a 10-point lead.

The Panthers found some baskets at the end of the quarter, but couldn’t fend off Georgia Tech, allowing the Yellow Jackets to shoot 54 percent in the half.

Trailing by 13 entering the second half, the Panthers needed to find more stops on defense and quality scoring looks to cut into the Georgia Tech lead. They added early baskets from Bugg and Diop to slash the lead to nine points, but couldn’t hold it there for long.

Soon after the opening baskets, the Panthers fell prey to their all-too-familiar turnover problem — throwing two balls away that lead to five easy Yellow Jacket points. The turnovers again were a problem for the young Panthers squad, as their 14 turnovers led to 13 Georgia Tech points on the night.

Nevertheless, the Panthers kept trying to chip away, using a much improved offense to find baskets at the rim in the third quarter. As a team, the Panthers shot 9-15 from the field in the third quarter but couldn’t make up any ground thanks to an even better 10-16 from the field for Georgia Tech.

In the fourth quarter, Pitt built small spurts of momentum but could never fully capitalize. Down 12 at the start of the quarter, the Panthers cut the lead to single digits with 6:43 left when Bugg connected on a 3-point basket.

The Yellow Jackets answered as Vuckovic again connected on a jumper. Vuckovic lead Georgia Tech on the night, scoring 18 on 8-12 from the field, including 2-4 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Despite Georgia Tech’s persistence, Pitt kept fighting. Trailing by 10 with 5:21 remaining, the Panthers added four consecutive baskets over the next four and half minutes of play, all while keeping Georgia Tech scoreless. The run cut the Georgia Tech lead to just two points with a minute to play.

“I thought we stepped up our defense, and the offense was much better,” McConnell-Serio said.

Bugg said the Panthers returned to their fundamentals during that run.

“It was just stop and score, stop and score. It’s what we work on in practice,” Bugg said.

Unfortunately, though, the Panthers couldn’t get enough stops and scores.

Georgia Tech got a basket from O’Neil with 28 seconds remaining and, after missing its next shot, forced the Panthers to foul. Unfortunately though, the Yellow Jackets made the most of their free throws, clinching the game at the free-throw line.

Diop and Bugg led the Panthers offensively for the second straight game. Diop added 19 points on 8-12 shooting, adding five rebounds and four assists. Bugg pitched in with 16 points, her third consecutive game with 15 points or more.

The Panthers will finish their regular season this Sunday when they travel to Louisville, Kentucky, to take on the No. 10 Louisville Cardinals (22-6, 13-1 ACC) at 12:30 p.m.

“We’re just trying to finish off the season strong, have fun and play our hardest,” Bugg said.

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