Early during the preseason, Pitt Women’s Basketball sophomore Liatu King was approached by head coach Lance White and was offering a long explanation in an effort to coach his player, when he was stopped in his tracks.
“So you want me to rebound,” King asked.
White answered in the affirmative and it has been off to the races ever since.
King’s 12 points represented a season-high and her nine rebounds paced Pitt for the second time the season in a 69-64 City Game victory over Duquesne Saturday at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
“Winning the city is really important to our program,” said White. “To win was huge for us. I think we’re to the point where we can win in a lot of different ways. Today I thought the play of AB (Amber Brown) and Tu (King) were outstanding. We’re still learning how to win so all of these close games, to battle back and have that pressure helps us keep moving.”
It was clear in the second quarter that emotions were starting to get the better of Pitt as it was down 27-20.
King had missed two point-blank layups and Rita Igbokwe was called for a technical foul after throwing the ball off an advertising boards behind the basket.
Duquesne elected to have Libby Bazelak shoot the free throws and misfired on both, which negated what could have been a big boost.
King then led by example, cleaning up a rebound off a three-point miss and then scored on Pitt’s next possession as well, all while Duquesne was coming up empty.
“Coming into the game we talked about composure,” she said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. Whenever things get too hot we have a mantra to bring us back down, that’s what we did to bring the emotions down. We’ve got to go, that was the thing. It was a big help for our team and they know if I get the rebound, I’m putting it back up. When they see me going they know it’s time to go.”
Pitt was able to lead multiple times in the second quarter after King’s play and it led to an active bench and a team that was fully engaged, locked in to its goals at halftime.
“These kids really bought into each other and what they have to do,” said White.
PIECES COMING TOGETHER
After Pitt’s victory, White told the locker room that the result was an important one and that effort will need to be duplicated or exceeded as the season continues.
“That toughness and being able to pull games out, every one of them now are going to feel like this,” he stated. “I think that’s a huge growth for us, to come out of the road with a win and win the city.”
Indeed White has called upon all 12 active Pitt players to deliver and that trust has been instilled in each member, at different times as rotations are still being determined.
Pitt has shown an ability to be an aggressive team and as far as Duquesne coach Dan Burt was concerned, that effort was what allowed the Panthers to come away with a victory.
As is, Pitt took 22 free throws, to Duquesne’s five, though two of those Dukes shots were on a technical foul.
Pitt also held Duquesne to a 31.3% shooting clip in the fourth quarter as the Dukes were 1-for-11 on its three-point shots.
“That’s a huge emphasis for us, how many times can we get to the line,” asked White. “Now we have to make a few more of them, but obviously, just the aggression and getting their kids in foul trouble and making enough plays around the rim to where we forced the refs to make calls. I thought our defense realty stepped up and forced them to make some hard shots and limited their action after that.”
While Pitt has accomplished all of these results in the city, it now will be challenged in several ways.
For starters, Pitt will be traveling to the Virgin Islands for three games against Texas A&M, Northwestern and South Dakota, all teams which made the NCAA Tournament last season. Following that, Pitt will return home to face Rutgers.
As Pitt heads into these games, White feels that the team has developed who it has to be and what makes it tick and that these four games may very well define whether his Panthers will get to play in March.
“Just the ability to win games, that’s something this team has really bought into, how hard it is and what you have to do,” he said. “Rebounding has to be our team identity and there has been huge growth on the defensive end. We have to go into this with the right mindset and go win a couple of games.”