Pecyna: Notre Dame victory over Panthers came too easily

Pecyna: Notre Dame victory over Panthers came too easily

The phrase “taking candy from a baby” gets thrown around frequently.

Entering Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center, that phrase seemed like it would apply to the contest — which might be the wrong term, since it implies a competition — between the far-from-ranked Pitt women’s basketball team and second-ranked Notre Dame.

Afterward, though, saying that the Fighting Irish conquered the court against Pitt was like watching a baby get her candy stolen wouldn’t do the result justice. It was somehow easier than that for the Irish. I want to say that, for Notre Dame, the game was easier than taking sweets from a baby who’s already handing them out.

Except, Pitt hasn’t had anything that desirable of late, nothing worth losing.

And coach Suzie McConnell-Serio didn’t even act as though the final score — a blistering 109 points for undefeated Notre Dame and a shocking 66 for the defeated Panthers — belied the disparity between one of college basketball’s perennial powerhouses and one of its most barren programs.

“Where we are as a program is looking … at closing the gap,” McConnell-Serio said. “Putting the right pieces in place with recruiting and trying to compete at the highest level. We know we have a lot of work to do. We’re not there yet, and we’re not even close.” 

Even the scene of the crime portended as much.

As the game tipped off — and the Irish scored before seven seconds could drain off the clock — the crowd wasn’t buzzing with even the dimmest of all upset dreams. Instead it was a mere hum, akin to the awkward, antsy murmur in a venue when a few early-arriving fans sort of just linger while waiting for their team to start, to witness action.

Except there never was any enthralling action, and by the time the Irish lead ballooned to 30 at the start of the second half — and then exploded to 40 midway through it — the noise made it seem like one team failed to play under grim circumstances.

Most of the scattered claps and cheers that dissected the unenthused crowd weren’t even Pitt fans. 

A swath of seats were filled by Notre Dame fans, clad in team shirts the color of a Wrigley’s Doublemint package and as biting as the chill of the actual Doublemint gum. After all, the shirts were distributed outside the Pete and clustered to form the only visual semblance of team pride in a venue that was a quarter of the way full — or empty.

Some of the fans may have actually been family there to root for local products and current Fighting Irish players Kayla McBride (out of Villa Maria Academy in Erie, Pa.) and Madison Cable (a product of Mt. Lebanon High School).

If that was the reason for their traveling support, those diehards had plenty to celebrate. Cable had nine points and six rebounds. McBride cruised to 20 points on 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) shooting — hauntingly familiar marksmanship to the rest of the team, which made 60.6 percent of shots.

“Sometimes when you come home, you don’t know how it’s going to go,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It was great to have all the people from Erie come down to see Kayla play one of the best games that she’s had all year. Just a phenomenal effort.”

“[I] kind of feel at home, even though I’m not really home,” McBride said. “It’s just a great feeling.”

It sure seemed like McBride felt great at the Pete.

Just five minutes into the second half, McBride’s teammates found her open at the 3-point line, so she caught the pass and lifted a shot. Then she yelled, “Short,” thinking the ball didn’t have the carry and would clip the front of the rim.

Right after the word left the tip of her tongue, the ball cleanly slipped through the bottom of the net. McBride looked back at Marquel Davis — who was supposed to defend the shot — then back at the ball, then licked her lips and revealed a smug smirk while trotting backward to play defense.

“I think it was just one of those nights when it was a very friendly rim for us,” said McGraw, a hall of famer.

With Brianna Kiesel, whose red-hot performance has earned heraccolades from the conference, surely something had to go Pitt’s way tonight, right?

Kiesel scored 20 points — but left the game with about 12 minutes to play with an apparent knee injury.

Look, trying to find a bright spot in this storm cloud is tough. It’s certainly not as easy as taking candy from — oh, nevermind.