GREENSBORO, N.C. — A disappointing chapter of women’s basketball at the University of Pittsburgh has finally come to a close.
It’s time to turn the page, and Pitt fans are hoping that from here, the only way for the Panthers to go is up.
With his first season as head coach of the Panthers over, Lance White certainly believes his team is trending in the right direction. Despite an 11-20 overall record, he thinks the Panthers made real strides this year between Games 1 and 31.
“I think as a basketball team and as a program we really have come a long ways. Sometimes you don’t always see it in the end result. But we have really, really come a long way,” White said. “Reflecting back throughout this season, (I’m) really excited about each of their growths and what they were able to do from where we started to where we end today.”
The Panthers fell to the Duke Blue Devils, 86-64, on Wednesday evening at the Greensboro Coliseum in the first round of the ACC women’s basketball tournament, putting a punctuation on their 2018-19 campaign.
Pitt was led by senior Danielle Garven, who had 16 points in the loss, the final game of her collegiate career.
Also in her last performance in a Panthers’ uniform, senior and Pittsburgh native Cassidy Walsh finished with 14 points, two rebounds and two assists. Walsh hit her third three-pointer of the game early in the fourth quarter, which gave her 100 shots made from behind the arc for her career at Pitt, the 10th most all-time in program history.
While Walsh, Garven and others were seniors on the official roster, they and everyone else on the team were freshmen this year when it came to learning White, his personality, his tactics, his attitude and his thoughts about basketball. It would’ve been easy for talented players like Walsh and Garven to throw the towel in and transfer after White was hired. After all, he didn’t recruit them. But they didn’t. The Pitt seniors stuck around and helped build a foundation that White can build on in future seasons.
“(They could’ve) said, ‘peace out and I want my scholarship’ and moved on, but what this group really did of coming in and buying into what I was selling was really remarkable to me,” White said. “Again we dealt with confidence issues all year long of really, just, if you’re open you have to shoot it. And a lot of them went from role players to now where they’re cast as our number one option and you have to shoot it every time you’re open.”
Added Walsh: “I think (White is) going to do tremendous things here. We started this journey when he came in May, I think. And it’s been ongoing since then. Non-stop of hard work every single day. And that’s been set in stone.”
Building that foundation means that the season — and the loss to Duke on Wednesday — weren’t all bad. Sure, White’s first year as head coach didn’t go how he wanted, but strengths, weaknesses, areas where the Panthers need to improve, and what type of players he has to recruit in the off-season, were identified. ACC wins against North Carolina and Wake Forest showed what this team was capable of when it played at its best and executed White’s game-plan.
Finding another three-point shooter like Walsh will be a must, as will be finding a versatile forward like Garven.
Walsh was the only Pitt player to start every game this season. Not only was she a great scorer, but she was reliable.
“When you come to Pitt, that’s what it’s all about, representing Pittsburgh,” Walsh said. “And everybody who comes here, who Coach White has coming in, they’ll do the same thing. That’s where the legacy has been and that’s where it will continue to go, with hard work.”
Pitt had leads over Duke in the first and second quarters of this game. After Kyla Nelson drained a three-pointer from the right wing off a feed from Whitney, Pitt led by four points about halfway through the second quarter. But Duke stormed back and went on an 11-3 run to retake the lead.
“I think (Pitt was) just executing and playing good basketball. They were finding their shooters and, if I recall, some three-balls were going up and in,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “From our perspective, our team just tightened up defensively. We made some switches and did some different things we needed to do.”
Duke basically put Pitt away in the third quarter, outscoring the Panthers, 24-11. Leading the way for Duke was the one-woman wrecking crew of Haley Gorecki, who racked up 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Miela Goodchild added 19 points, while Faith Suggs chipped in 16 points.
The Panthers turned the ball over 14 times, were out-rebounded 37-27, and made their way to the free throw line just eight times.
Had Pitt won, it would’ve been just it’s second ACC tournament victory since joining the conference in 2013. It also would’ve been the first time the Panthers had ever beaten the Blue Devils, who they are now 0-11 against.
The win is Duke’s fourth straight and the Blue Devils will face the sixth-seeded Florida State Seminoles on Thursday.
“We have to be a team that has an underdog mentality and you’ve got to keep fighting,” White said. “But our confidence sometimes gets shaken. And I thought in that moment, once they came back and tied it and then, I think, took a lead, our confidence was shaken a little bit… Again, it’s going to be hard. We’re in the ACC, the best conference in the country.”
For Pitt, the areas that it needs to improve on are clear. The Panthers finished last in the ACC in scoring margin, free throw percentage, rebounding margin and defensive rebounds.
Among the players returning for White in his second season will be Whitney, who is the only current ACC player to have at least 100 assists in each of the past three seasons.
She’ll be key as the Panthers try to build for a bigger and better campaign next season.
“Even though the end result wasn’t what we wanted all season, we still learned a lot. We’ve still developed a lot,” Whitney said. “And I’m excited to take what we’ve learned this year, and with the freshmen and everybody coming in, and just to see what we can do next year.
“We’ll work hard this summer and just see what we can do.”