PITTSBURGH — Through 12 games, Pitt’s first season under new coach Lance White has come with its fair share of highs and lows intermixed in no particular order.
A four-game win-streak leading into Saturday afternoon’s Backyard Brawl with West Virginia appeared to be a sign that good things were on the horizon for the Panthers – even as they suited up without their leading scorer, Aysia Bugg, who has been ruled out indefinitely with blood clots. After a 2-4 start that included early lapses against UCF (61-58) and Youngstown State (64-55), wins over three top-120 RPI opponents in Arkansas, Northwestern and Fordham provided an indication that the team just might’ve been hitting stride amid its first year of transition.
Expectations weren’t exactly high for a returning group that won two ACC games last season, but the Panthers were playing staunch on the defensive end – allowing 55.2 points-per-game while allowing opponents to shoot just 31 percent from the floor and 21 percent on 3-point attempts – and had eclipsed 61 points or more in three of their last four outings.
But then West Virginia came into the Petersen Events Center and…everything hit the fan. Pitt’s previous displays of stymying defense were nowhere to be found as the Mountaineers shot 47 percent from the field and made 11 of their 25 relatively open 3-point attempts. There was a clear lack energy from the jump as the Mountaineers went up 14-0 within the first five minutes of play.
And it didn’t improve much at all.
“You learn a lot about yourself,” said White. “We’re a team that’s a work in progress. I thought (West Virginia’s) pressure took us out of a lot of the stuff we wanted to do. And then they were just rougher, tougher, bigger and stronger than we were.
“Those are points that we’ll have to address, because that’s what an ACC team looks like.”
Sure, West Virginia was a quality Big-12 opponent, but certainly not quality enough to hand Pitt a 34-point loss at home – at least based off what was seen from the Panthers in their previous four wins. This wasn’t Notre Dame or Louisville.
So, then what changed?
“Today was the first time in a while that I’ve seen us (back) down from a challenge,” White said. “We knew West Virginia was good. They’re a better basketball team than we are, but I want to see that fight. Today we lost a little bit of that.”
White has been preaching growth all season to his completely new cast of players. Sometimes, we’ve seen it. Sometimes, we haven’t. But with four games left before ACC play begins – including the City Game against Duquesne on Dec. 29th – consistency and fight are two qualities that this group can’t afford to be without.
“We have to come in every day with the mentality that we have to grow and we want to get better,” said Jasmine Whitney. “Today we didn’t come in with that mentality. We have to improve upon that.”