Women’s Basketball: Panthers falter in second half in loss to Wake Forest

With leading scorer Brianna Kiesel out of Sunday’s game because of an injury, senior guard Marquel Davis knew she would have to step up.

Step up she certainly did, scoring a season-high 22 points, but it was not enough to overcome a strong second half by Wake Forest, which beat Pitt 74-70 Sunday at the Petersen Events Center.

The loss overshadows a strong effort by the Panthers (11-12, 2-8 ACC), who played some of the best basketball they have played all season in the first half without the services of Kiesel, their leading scorer. She injured herself when she collided with a Maryland player while battling for a loose ball Thursday night.

 “We’re expecting her [Kiesel] to be healthy for Thursday,” head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.

Davis took the extra initiative in Kiesel’s absence on both ends of the floor, more than doubling her average scoring output in the first half alone and working at the top of the key on defense to slow down the Wake Forest attack.

The Demon Deacons (13-11, 4-7 ACC) could not solve a stifling 2-3 zone deployed by Pitt in the first half, a method that proved very effective when it collapsed on Wake Forest shooters and forced adjusted shots.

The Demon Deacons began the game converting just one of their first nine field-goal attempts, but halftime offensive adjustments made by Wake Forest paid off. Junior guard Millesa Calicott hit four 3-pointers, and the team as a whole shot 68.2 percent in the final 20 minutes.

“The difference was hitting shots,” McConnell-Serio said. “They were in man-to-man, and I thought we did a good job of attacking it and getting shots. Obviously, I’m sure they watch a lot of film just like we do and saw that teams play us zone. They made the adjustment in the second half, and we didn’t make enough shots.”

The second-half plan for Wake Forest was centered on the plan for the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Dearica Hamby, to touch the ball on almost every offensive possession.

After Hamby picked up her third personal foul before halftime, Pitt appeared to be in the driver’s seat with Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover forced to put her best player on the bench for a period of time at the end of the first.

Hamby came out in the second half on a mission, playing all 20 minutes — despite her three personal fouls — and scored 23 second-half points on 9-for-12 shooting. She finished with a game-high 32 points and added 14 rebounds.

“She is very talented, but we were late on the double-team, we ended up fouling and credit them, they made a run,” McConnell-Serio said.

The effort Sunday did not come without help from Davis’ teammates, and redshirt sophomore Loliya Briggs picked up her game sans Kiesel’s 17.5 points per game in the lineup.

Briggs played well Sunday, scoring 15 of her career-high 28 points in the first half on 6-for-7 shooting, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

“It is the best I have seen them both play,” McConnell-Serio said of Briggs and Davis. “Obviously those are the two that we wanted to have the ball in their hands. Anytime we are running a set they were the two that were involved.”

Despite its early successes, Pitt failed to hold on to the 17-point lead it had built up at halftime.

“We just had breakdowns defensively where we end up fouling and putting them on the free-throw line,” McConnell-Serio said. “I think that was the key to the game — putting them on the free-throw line late. Just some bad decisions.”