PITTSBURGH — The 2017-18 Pitt women’s basketball season was not ultimately a successful one, with the Panthers finishing 10-20 and head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio getting fired at the end of the season.
When new head coach Lance White took the reigns, he didn’t exactly have a lot of changes that he could make.
It was a bit late in the summer, as Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke waited until after she had hired men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel before deciding to move on from McConnell-Serio.
Then there was the fact that there weren’t exactly a lot of scholarships to work with. Pitt played most of 2017-18 without a senior, and there were three incoming commits already signed.
But that problem is a double-edged sword. Yes, White’s hands were tied when it came to his roster for this season. But he’s also returning almost every piece of the roster from a year ago, and even though it wasn’t a particularly successful season.
The one exception to that was the departure of Yacine Diop. Diop, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago, graduated after her redshirt junior season and transferred to Louisville.
The 5-foot-10 forward started out the season as a wing, but with the Panthers struggling, she was moved to small forward and really took off. She averaged 16.1 points per game in conference play, which was actually higher than her season average of 15.7 points per game.
She took 247 field goals last season. The next-most prolific shooter on the team was point guard Jasmie Whitney, who put up 154 shots.
With Diop departed, there were plenty of places that the 2018-19 offense could run through. The return of Aysia Bugg, who missed all of 2017-18 with a knee injury, provided one such place, as did the potential progression of forward Kalista Walters and guard Alayna Gribble.
But instead, it appears that a lot of that workload is going to be placed on the shoulders of senior Danielle Garven. Garven was a part-time starter in 2017-18, starting 17 games overall, but just three ACC contests. She averaged 6.5 points per game, fifth on the team.
This year, Garven has assumed Diop’s role as a somewhat undersized, but athletic four, with the Panthers playing a four-out, one-in offense. She also might have carved out a scoring role similar to Diop’s, posting 20 points in the Panthers’ exhibition against Gannon.
White said it’s part opportunity, and part individual improvement from the former junior college transfer that led to her increase in workload.
“We spent a lot of time just on fundamental development and I think a lot of that has really paid off for her individual game,” White said. “[She’s] seeing some gaps where she can go and attack. She’s always been able to shoot that little mid-range, but now to be able to see her finish up around the rim, do some of that stuff.”
At a slender, athletic 6-foot-1, Garven is probably not going to match up size-wise in the paint with some of the bigger forwards in the ACC. That’s something that’s going to effect Pitt team-wide.
“Yeah, we’re small,” White said. “Even with Kalista running the five, she’s not a true center. We’re going to have to go really small at times and even move Danielle into the five spot and just have some of those guards that I think are all pretty much interchangeable.”
But the reasons that White wants Garven in that role go beyond her physical size.
“She’s athletic and long — not, per se, a true power forward — she’s more of a slasher,” he said. “That’s where she’s got to find space and find chances to go by people as opposed to banging with them. … I think within that, being able to spread people out, Danielle can find some gaps and find some seams.”
Pitt starts its 2018-19 season with a home game against Central Florida this morning at 11 a.m. at Petersen Events Center.