Women’s Basketball: Pitt travels to Virginia Tech for matchup with last-place Hokies

Coming off a Senior Day win over Clemson on Sunday, Pitt women’s basketball has a chance to do something it has not accomplished since February 2011 — win two conference games in a row.

Following the Sunday victory, Pitt (11-15, 3-9 ACC) travels to Blacksburg, Va., Thursday night to take on the ACC’s worst team, the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Virginia Tech (11-14, 1-11 ACC), picked to finish 13th — two spots ahead of the Panthers — in the ACC preseason media and coaches poll, lost its first seven conference games this season and enters Thursday night’s contest looking to snap a four-game losing streak.

“This game is pivotal for us because we are looking at Virginia Tech, ranked lowest in the standings. We have three wins — they have one,” head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “We talked about not finishing last in the conference where we have been picked. We put a big emphasis on both the Clemson game and this Virginia Tech game in that we are able to win one at home and another big one on the road.”

The game has seeding implications for the Panthers, who currently sit in 12th place out of 15 ACC teams. Pitt is currently matched up to play the 13th-seeded Boston College Eagles in the first round of the ACC Tournament, which begins March 5 in Greensboro, N.C.

Coming off a 16-point loss Sunday at Virginia Tech, the Hokies need to beat Pitt and receive help to avoid being seeded the last of 15 teams in the ACC Tournament.

Virginia Tech is led by senior forward Uju Ugoka, who averages 19.4 points per game. Ugoka, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, ranks third in the ACC in scoring behind Wake Forest’s Dearica Hamby (21.4 ppg) and Georgia Tech’s Tyaunna Marshall (20.0 ppg).

Ugoka also ranks third in the conference in rebounding, pulling down 9.8 boards per game.

Slowing down Ugoka will be a point of emphasis for McConnell-Serio’s Panthers. The 6-foot-1 forward presents a matchup problem similar to the one Hamby did less than two weeks ago.

After picking up three fouls in the first half, Hamby came out in the second half and dominated Pitt, posting 23 points and nine rebounds in erasing a 17-point lead and exploiting the Panthers’ biggest weakness — post defense.

“We are going to mix up our defenses — some zone and some man with a key on her,” McConnell-Serio said. “We are going to have to choose our spots to double-team her in man and in zone, just making sure we know where she is because she loves the short corner and the high post.”

Hamby shot 9-of-12 from the field in that second-half comeback. On that night, she exploited undersized senior forward Asia Logan and the other Pitt bigs in the middle of the 2-3 zone and fought through a defense that was slow to double-team the talented forward.

Ugoka will present a very similar matchup problem for the Pitt forwards. In January, she posted 29 points against No. 3 Duke and is similar to Hamby in that she can completely take over a game.

“We just have to recognize where the help defense is coming from and prevent her from catching the ball down the block,” McConnell-Serio said. “Putting pressure on the passer will help. We have to be active when we do go to the zone.”

Ugoka teams with freshman guard Vanessa Panousis, who averages 12.1 points per game. The Sydney, Australia, product is fifth in the ACC in assists, with 4.1 per game.

McConnell-Serio said this might be the most important game to date in Pitt’s inaugural ACC season.

“This would be a huge win for us,” McConnell-Serio said. “To be able to get four conference wins and gain some separation from Virginia Tech and having only three conference games left after this, it would really solidify us in the standings.”