PITTSBURGH — The Pitt women’s basketball team did not come into the 2018-19 season with high expectations. The Panthers were picked to finish third from last in the preseason ACC media and coaches poll.
The Panthers lost their opener to Central Florida and also lost to Youngstown State early in the seat. They beat Cincinnati, but in their first trip away from the Petersen Events Center on Nov. 19, not only were the Panthers blown out by Georgetown, 70-41, they lost senior point guard Aysia Bugg.
In a tournament in Nashville, the Panthers lost their first game to Wisconsin, but bounced back to beat Arkansas and Tennessee Tech. In the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, they earned their first true road win over Northwestern and then beat Fordham on Wednesday back at home.
The four-game winning streak has the Panthers feeling good heading into this Saturday’s rivalry game against West Virginia, particularly on defense.
“We’ve put an emphasis on our defense the last couple of weeks,” point guard Jasmine Whitney said. “We’ve gotten more comfortable in what we’re doing. I think that intensity brings the offensive intensity for us.”
Whitney has individually been a big part of the Panthers’ turnaround. The junior has stepped into a bigger role on both sides of the ball since Bugg’s injury. The team has not announced a timeframe for her injury, but it’s expected to be a long-term absence.
“Aysia is a great player, great leader,” Whitey said. “We kinda just picked it up where we left off and that’s what we’re going to have to do.
Whitney had 10 points at Northwestern and paced the Panthers with 18 points against Fordham.
“I’ll take the role,” she said. “Whatever I have to do for my team to be successful.”
So far, the Panthers have proven they have the ability to beat talented teams. Northwestern is currently No. 63 in RPI, Arkansas is No. 77 and Fordham is No. 106.
That will have to continue if they want to improve on their 2-14 mark in conference play from a year ago. The individual pieces of the team aren’t all that different than they were a year ago.
But what’s given them hope, beyond their early season successes, is the new feeling around the team under first-year head coach Lance White.
“The mentality has changed,” Whitney said. “We’re right there. We want to fight. We’re winning those close battles. … We just have so much energy. It’s great to be around. It fires us up. It fires [the coaches] up. Now that we’ve gotten used to each other a little bit, it’s going to be a great season.”
The Panthers next test will be one of emotion, as they’ll host West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl on Saturday afternoon. Any win is special, but a home win over the Mountaineers would go a long way toward keeping those good vibes rolling.
“Every win is a good one for us,” Whitney said. “We just have to come battle every day. That would be a good one to get.”