PITTSBURGH — Through two non-conference outings, the Pitt women’s basketball team has won games in multiple ways and also could not stop smiling after either appearance.
Why is that?
Because the expectation has changed and the team is more player led now, and any coach that tries to interject that may have to talk to senior captain Jayla Everett’s hand, or at the very least be told by the veteran “we’ve got this”.
This was a goal Pitt coach Lance White referenced over the summer, as he illustrated the understanding of what expectations currently are.
“They were saying ‘but coach I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked and you’re saying it’s not good enough,'” he said. “Now they understand it’s not personal, you have to raise your level on the court. On the court I’ve been able to finally hold them accountable to a different standard. That’s what I get excited about but I love coaching this group, because they can compete.”
Pitt has shown that it is 11 deep as everyone who has played earned at least one rebound in both contents, and what makes the Panthers even more threatening is the seemingly imminent return of Dayshanette Harris, who will have less pressure on her in that she will not have to create as much.
Two days before the season started, White was not sure who his starting five would be, a testament for just how close and competitive Pitt is.
“This year I can say we can compete and now we have to prove in games that we’re in, to go win,” said White. “Last year we were in a lot of games and couldn’t win them. We have to be in them and then win them.”
TAKING STEPS FORWARD
Over the summer, junior guard Emy Hayford worked to shift her focus to that point guard position, which has come much more naturally as she finds that balance between personal and team.
Hayford figured out that balance in a season-opening win over Radford, in which she scored a career- high 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
“I used to focus a lot on mistakes, but over the years I’ve learned that they don’t care about mistakes, I don’t need to care about mistakes,” said Hayford. “Coach White always says to go to the next so that’s what my focus is on now. They trust me to do well. I need to trust myself to do well like my teammates do.”
Everett has been counted on to score at all three levels and as the team’s top option is expected to shoot at least 15 times a game.
Thus far she has done just that and has acclimated to her role, which also has been to help get her teammates involved.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” she said. “I feel like we work on it every day so just seeing it translate when I get out on the court at game time. The more I’m trusted the more I’m comfortable getting the ball to them. Every day after practice we are always working on some type of passing.”
Junior center Rita Igbokwe has made significant strides in her game and in a win over Lafayette, and came alive in the third quarter, showing the ability to take over a contest.
Previously, Igbokwe had a checklist of what ifs that she felt held her back on the court, but now, she slows down her thought process and takes plays one dribble at a time.
White said Igbokwe’s 23-point, 13-rebound performance was the most consistent he had seen her.
“I just started to breathe,” Igbokwe said. “I have the tendency to hold my breath and be so anxious. I just have to slow down allow the ball to stick to my hands. I can’t move when they try to throw the ball to me.”
Additionally Amber Brown has transformed a dynamic guard that White considers “the heart and soul of our team”.
As a team, Pitt was tested against a shorthanded Lafayette, which battled back in the second half and at the fourth-quarter media timeout, White grabbed control of the huddle and reminded everyone this kind of scenario was what they spent all offseason on.
He implored them to make a choice between winning and getting in position to do that, or backing away from the challenge. Pitt chose the former, and the veteran-laden team used that experience to secure victory.
“A year ago we wouldn’t have won this game,” said White. “Our kids had to bounce back, be in a close game, perform and win.”
White believes that this is his deepest Pitt team since being hired and some of the tougher times have been for the growth fans are seeing now. Now Pitt knows how to properly communicate on the court and these two results, show it is ready to move forward as a program.
“This year I can say we can compete and now we have to prove in games that we’re in, to go win,” White said. “Last year we were in a lot of games and couldn’t win them. We have to be in them and then win them.”