PITTSBURGH — Coming into this season, it is safe to say that the Pitt women’s basketball team had some unknowns, but one thing that can be agreed upon is that it is a young group.
As Pitt coach Lance White took to the Petersen Events Center media podium following Friday evening’s exhibition victory over Pitt-Johnstown, he admitted as much.
This year’s Pitt team has seven new players and those in attendance had a preview of five of those pieces
“I was pleased with their energy, with a young team it is trying to keep their emotions in check,” White said of his team. “We’ve got to learn, there is so much stuff they don’t know. We haven’t had the time yet to teach them defensive principles that they’re going to have to be held to a high standard right away. We’re going to have to be a team that grows every day.”
Given that last year, White and his staff inherited a roster of 14 from the previous
staff, he views this as what truly is the first team. Now it is about putting a style of play together that suits this team’s strengths.
“I want to play fast and I want athletic kids that can get up and down,” said White. “Now we have to teach them the fundamentals to do that. You have to be relentless to play fast and we are still a little bit soft. Some of the freshmen do not understand how hard and tough it is in the toughest conference in the country. We are moving towards getting big-time players, we are not quite there yet.”
ASSESSING THE YOUTH
In Friday night’s contest, Pitt started four guards in Amber Brown, Aysia Bugg, Gabbie Green and Dayshanette Harris in addition to center Cara Judkins. This move signals a smaller lineup with Danielle Garvin’s graduation a season ago.
A four-guard approach likely will be the way Pitt plays, at least until Marcella Lamark becomes eligible to play around Christmas time.
“(Lamark) will help us just because she is a nightmare in terms of things she can do with her size and shooting ability,” said White. “At that point we will get bigger. Right now we are really small, so we will have to cover for that until we get her and Kyla (Nelson) back. Some of our rotations have taken hits, four guards and sometimes we may have to go with five guards.”
Harris will be Pitt’s point guard as a freshman and in the exhibition contest showed promise scoring nine points, adding seven assists and amassing four steals.
Even so, there were some inconsistencies with five turnovers, though as a freshman, White knows that Harris will only improve.
“Once Day learns a bit of control and when to attack she will be so good for Bugg,” White said. “She can penetrate past anyone, now it is decisions, decisions on what works and what doesn’t. She is a dynamic player and she is still working on things but she will be a fun player.”
With Brown, White will be looking for a two-way player who can display her athleticism, grab defensive rebounds and grab loose balls. As she becomes more comfortable her jumper and range will improve. She showed some of this with a 15-point, nine rebound performance.
Pitt showed fast hands in Friday’s effort forcing 23 turnovers and grabbing 18 steals, which is a sign of a more aggressive team than a season ago, but was this real versus compensation for youth not completely understanding positioning? That is both the question and balance.
For example against UPJ, Pitt struggled to recognize that the Mountain Cats were repeating a few of the same offensive plays and patterns and the Panthers struggled to find answers.
“You have to recruit kids that love to compete and that is what the new kids have, that competitive edge,” White said. “Now we have to get them to move the ball, reverse and attack. Every time we reversed the ball, we either scored or got fouled, they don’t understand that yet. You don’t want to lose that aggressiveness but you have to understand positioning. Our kids are just playing and reacting rather than doing it ahead of time, they just want to go hack it and double team it and we want to get past that.”
White recognizes Pitt is in a place where it will have a rotation of nine players, all of whom to various degrees will play, so in that respect there may not be as much consequence for a miscue due to both youth and not having a complete rotation at this early stage of the season.
An extra complication arises with Bugg and making sure that while she gets her shots in, her minutes are monitored as she redshirted the 2017-18 season and in last year’s campaign missed the final 26 games due to blood clots.
The temptation will be there in certain spots to keep Bugg out there for longer minutes when breaks have to be established. Still, she is the leader of this Pitt team using her experience in addition to learning having spent most of the past two seasons on the bench watching her teammates battle.
As of the exhibition contest, White had yet to hand out roles and explain the expectations that come with said trust.
“(The) freshmen that have not played at this level, they’re going to be really good players,” said White. “Day, Emy (Hayford) and Gabbie will have leeway. We know they will make bad mistakes they will have to play through. What are our non-negotiables? Day we pulled her out when she turned the ball over and when we talk to her about something she has to execute it. Those are majors for me. As a team we gave them through today and now we will talk about roles. You’ve had all of this time to show me, now this is what you have to do to play.”