A first round ACC Tournament matchup between Pitt and Duke is a battle between two teams trending in the wrong direction.
Pitt, after starting the season 8-2, limped to an 11-18 regular season finish. The Panthers haven’t won a game since Jan. 27 – an overtime triumph at Clemson. They’ve lost nine straight since and dismissed the team’s top scorer in the midst of that stretch.
Duke, once seen as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament in Kara Lawson’s second year on the job, has lost five of its last six games. In December, the Blue Devils beat a ranked Iowa team and legitimately battled with South Carolina. But the last month has been a mighty struggle, and – barring an improbable run in Greensboro – the Blue Devils won’t be dancing in a few weeks.
This is all to say, the Blue Devils and the Panthers are in desperate need of a victory – something to celebrate, something to spur some momentum.
For the Panthers, hanging their hat on beating Duke in the ACC Tournament when the dust settles on this season would be a solid accomplishment. And it would be another indicator that, despite this team’s record, it is growing, maturing and getting better under Lance White.
“We’re excited about getting out there and having the chance to play and compete, and we’re ready to take on Duke,” White said.
How To Watch
- When: Wednesday, March 2 | 3:30 p.m. EST
- Where: Greensboro, N.C.
- Watch: RSN | ACCNX
- At Stake: The winner of this game moves onto the ACC Tournament’s second round on Thursday, where they’ll face seventh-seeded Miami at 6 p.m. EST
Positives Since Everett’s Dismissal
Since dismissing Jayla Everett from the team on Feb. 20, Pitt has lost three straight games. Everett, a senior, had been averaging a team-best 13.6 points per-game. However, she was also taking 15.3 shot attempts per-game in conference play, which was the fifth-most in the ACC.
The Panthers are learning how to play without Everett, and they’re spreading the ball around a bit more. In its losses to Virginia and Louisville, Pitt had three players score in double digits. In its defeat to Florida State, it had two players in double digits. Sophomore Liatu King had double-digit shot attempts for the fourth straight game against the Seminoles.
“Whenever it happened, it stung us a little bit, and it took us a minute to kind of regroup and refocus. It was difficult,” White said of Everett’s dismissal. “And so, once we were able to get through that and have a chance to recalibrate, then I think we played great basketball. Our game with Louisville – and against Florida State – I think we played some of our best basketball of the year.”
And while all three of those games were losses for Pitt, they were competitive in each one, even against No. 4 Louisville. The Panthers matched the Cardinals in scoring in the second quarter, and had the game tied briefly in the third.
Against Florida State, Pitt outscored the Seminoles 17-13 in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but I thought overall – in defense, rebounding and execution – was the best we’ve done all year long,” White said. “We’ve reimagined what we have to be.”
In their last meeting on Feb. 3, Duke led Pitt wire-to-wire in what wound up being a 54-39 win for the Blue Devils in Pittsburgh. Lexi Gordon had 12 points while Shayeann Day-Wilson – recently crowned ACC Rookie of the Year by the league’s head coaches – had 10 points and six assists.
“I think Kara and myself will both play similar styles. Our style isn’t going to change that much. But there is some different personnel now that changes it,” White said.
While Pitt’s roster has changed a bit since that meeting, Duke’s hasn’t. But for whatever reason, the Blue Devils have stumbled.
One area where Duke has really had problems is being effective from three-point land. In three of their five most recent losses, the Blue Devils have failed to shoot better than 18.3% from behind the arc.
Turnovers have also been an issue for Duke, all season long really. Not once this season have they finished a game with single-digit turnovers. In the month of February, Duke is averaging 15.1 turnovers per-game to just 11.7 assists.
Pitt is mediocre when it comes to three-point defense (ranking 170th nationally), but it is exceptional at corralling missed shots, ranking eighth in the country in rebounds per-game. If the Panthers can capitalize on Duke’s misses, they should be in a position to pull off an upset.
“That was an area where we felt right away that we could make the biggest impact, rebounding the ball,” White said. “If you can own the glass, you have the chance to be in a lot of games – and we’ve been in a lot of games. Now we just have to get that next piece to go win them.”
White Wants To See Tourney Move
Before he became the head coach at Pitt in 2018, White had been an assistant at Florida State under Sue Semrau since 2003. This is to say, he’s been in the ACC for a minute and has seen all of its changes.
The thing that has rarely changed though is the site of the conference’s tournament for women’s basketball. Since 2000, the tournament has been held in Greensboro every year except for 2017 – it was in Conway, South Carolina that season, just outside of Myrtle Beach.
While the conference’s men’s basketball tournament has moved around a bit, the women’s tournament has been held in the Carolinas every year since 1980, when it was held on Maryland’s campus. The only other time the tournament has left the Carolinas was 1978, when it was played in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Count White among the coaches who appreciate Greensboro – the hospitality of the organizers and the platform they provide for women’s basketball – but would like to see the tournament move around a bit.
“There are some homecourt advantages for those Carolina schools. Greensboro does a great of putting on the tournament,” White said. “At the same time, I really think we have to look at moving it around a little bit. I think our product is really good. I think this is the best, top to bottom, the conference has been since I can remember. It’s really deep and strong and I think it needs a chance to kind of move around a little bit and expose it to a different market.
“But again – I can’t say anything bad about what the Greensboro people have done to really solidify and make it a place, year after year, where you have the consistency to do great things.”