Early on, it appeared likely that that the Pitt women’s basketball team would give head coach Agnus Berenato win number 159 – the most ever in team history. However, the Panthers were unable to hang onto an early 11-2 lead.
The Dukes responded with a 9-0 run of their own and would soon grab momentum of the game and make key baskets down the stretch, resulting in a 70-61 victory.
“Our players came out right from the beginning ready to play,” Dukes head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “One thing we knew was that Pitt was going to come in with a lot of emotion.”
Despite the loss, Berenato thought highly of the contest.
“It was a great game and the best game in a couple years,” Berenato said. “This is a battle and everyone worked hard.”
The Panthers got on top thanks to Brianna Kiesel, who outscored Duquesne 8-2 during their early run. Still, the Dukes did not panic despite trailing 11-2.
“You come to get to know your players over the course of coaching them, and I don’t like to panic early,” McConnell-Serio said. “Ironically, this was probably the first game we got off to a slow start but we still got the good looks we wanted. I just had to think our players would settle down and they did.”
Duquesne’s response to the Pitt run was a surge of its own, which occurred because Pitt was unable to hang on to the basketball. Considering the up-and-down start, it could have been easy to just pack it in, but Kiesel knew that there was plenty of game left.
“Going through the game, we were very excited,” Kiesel said. “This is a big game, and we’ve played with them all summer, so it was a big game for us. We started out hot and that gave us the extra boost we needed. That 9-0 run hurt us but not really because we were still in it.”
The Dukes appeared the pull away in the first half, building a nine-point lead. Duquesne leading scorer Wumi Agunbiade stepped up her game and scored 10 points in the first half. However, the Panthers kept it a game.
A clearly competitive Kiesel showed her grit as the game continued, as evidenced by her 14 first half points.
At the half, Duquesne led 35-32. The Dukes had a pressure defense in the first half that forced 11 turnovers.
“I thought that we were very tentative,” Berenato said. “I didn’t think we’d have a lot of trouble with that and we did.”
The Dukes also had an advantage offensively, taking eight more shots than the Panthers and grabbing four more offensive rebounds. The Panthers were a perfect five-for-five from the free throw line and shot 44.4 percent from the field which was better than the Duke’s 37.1 percent.
While the Panthers again made the first basket to start the second half, it was Duquesne who would extend the lead taking a 42-36 lead into the first media timeout.
A key play came at the 14 minute mark in the second half. Pittsburgh cut the lead to 42-40 but Ahjah Hall made a layup while fouled by Ashlee Anderson. The free throw was made, making the lead five points.
Another key was containing Kiesel, as she scored just three points in the second to finish with 17 total.
“Kiesel had too much room in the first half, she hit her first three shots but we knew coming in that she was a tremendous player,” McConnell-Serio said. “I’ve watched too many games of hers to know that she just has the ability to take over a game and score a lot of points.”
A dry spell in scoring ended when Pitt’s Orsi Szecsi scored an open two and Abby Dowd nailed a three. The reply? A three from Belma Nurkic, her fourth of the game giving the Dukes a 50-45 lead.
With the game still close following the second-to-last media timeout, Logan made a two and Kiesel converted a three-point play following the free throw. Szecsi then made a two and April Robinson fought for a layup. There was a timeout called after as Kiesel needed to be helped off of the court.
“When Bri went down you had to get scared,” Berenato said. “ACLs, there’s an epidemic going down with women. I did not think that Bri was going to come back in.”
While Kiesel was gone, Asia Logan picked up the slack however even when Kiesel came back in, Robinson and Nurkic drained back to back threes to seal the game.
“I just look at it as another three that went in,” Nurkic said. “I try to have confidence throughout the game. It felt good when it went in and everyone got momentum out of it.”
Berenato knew that any chance of the Panthers making a comeback ended with those two possessions.
“Those were backbreakers,” Berenato said. “The first three was a dagger, but the second three was the nail in the coffin.”
The Panthers ultimately had a higher shooting percentage but were outrebounded, turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 28 points to be scored in the paint. Duquesne had more assists than turnovers, got off nine more shots and overcame a Pitt bench that outscored them 20-7.
Nurkic led all scorers with 18 points while Agunbiade had 15 points. Kiesel’s 17 points led the Panthers while Logan had her third double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The victory moved Duquesne to 8-1 on the season, while the Panthers fell to 6-3 on the season. Pittsburgh will next play at home Sunday Dec. 16 against Rider. It is the annual Hometown vs. Hunger game, as fans are encouraged to bring canned goods and if they do they can get in for $1. If a season-ticket holder donates a canned good they can receive a team store coupon or secure a coupon for a guest. In addition the game is also Youth and Camper Day for those in the area and those who attended the Agnus Berenato camps over the summer. Gametime is 1 p.m.
They said it:
Wumi Agunbiade on Asia Logan: “It’s nice playing against someone kind of like someone yourself and I think we both did a good job today.”
Loliya Briggs started every Panthers game this season until today. Berenato started Marquel Davis in her place citing ‘a team decision’.
Brittany Gordon got an extended look today and posted a career high 26 minutes. Berenato was very pleased with the way she played.
“I think Brittany’s a baller, but Brittany needs minutes,” Berenato said. “Brittany gets in and does a lot of good things. She might make a mistake but then she’ll get the rebound for you. I have to get Brittany Gordon minutes and this is the most minutes she’s had. To put a freshman in there, it’s exciting to me because where she’s come from just six weeks ago to now, that’s such phenomenal improvement.”