Pitt and Duquesne face off yet again in the annual “City Game” rivalry on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Petersen Events Center.
The rivalry pits the two Division I basketball programs in the city against each other, with Pitt representing the Oakland area and Duquesne sitting up on the Bluff, hence the rivalry’s name.
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While the men’s rivalry continues to fade into obscurity, the women’s rivalry continues to flourish. The teams have played each other in every season from 1984-present day, aside from the 2020-21 season that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted.
The Panthers established dominance early on in the rivalry, winning the first 13 matchups from 1974-1994. The Dukes have since won most of the games in the series, with a 17-9 record. They own two four-game winning streaks in the series, 2009-12 and 2014-17, and one five-game winning streak from 2000-04. The Panthers won four consecutive matchups from 2005-08, which also coincided with the time that legendary guard, Shavonte Zellous, played for them.
Pitt currently holds the lead in the series with 22 wins to 17 losses, but has only won three of the nine games at the Petersen Events Center, with the last three games at home ending in a loss.
Both Pitt head coach Lance White and Duquesne head coach Dan Burt want the series to continue and be an annual event. White has won two of the three matchups since starting at Pitt in 2018, including last year’s matchup, the first at UPMC Cooper Field House.
“It’s such a great chance for us to really expose people to the great women’s basketball that’s in Pittsburgh,” White said. “I think whenever you have two universities that are so close in distance, to really highlight that. Each team has had great success. To really be able to highlight the great basketball that has been able to be played in this city. It’s a great exposure event.”
Burt is from nearby Washington, Pa. and is in his 10th season as head coach of the Dukes. He also spent six seasons from 2007-13 as assistant coach, making it 16 seasons on the Bluff for him. He is currently 9-5 against the Panthers as apart of the Dukes coaching staff and 5-3 as head coach.
Burt said that being from western Pa. the City Game means a little bit more for the coaches and players who are from the area.
“For our players, they have grown up on what this rivalry has become,” Burt said. “This is the 40th edition of it. Really over the last 16 years, since I arrived at Duquesne as an assistant underneath Coach [Suzie McConnell-] Serio, we’ve really built this into a rivalry along with coach [Agnus] Berenato and now coach White there at Pitt. I think it’s a very healthy rivalry for girls basketball in western Pa. and it’s a very healthy rivalry for both Pitt and Duquesne.”
The Panthers bring back four-year starters in seniors, forward Amber Brown and guard Dayshanette Harris. They also bring in some transfers with experience, like Maryland transfer graduate guard Channise Lewis and Ohio State junior forward Gabby Hutcherson.
Junior forward Liatu King is the team’s best rebounder and sophomore forward Maliyah Johnson played the best game of her Pitt career on Wednesday in the win over Bryant. She shot 7-for-9 from the field and made four of her six 3-point attempts.
The strength of Pitt is the lengthy, athletic players who use their size to put constant pressure on defense, make steals and grab rebounds. Pitt is holding opponents to 31.5% shooting from the field, out rebounding them 41.7 to 32.0, made 34 steals to opponents’ 22 and 18 blocks to opponents’ nine.
The Panthers are an improved team offensively, which was a big concern for the team coming into this season. They’re currently shooting around 45% from the floor and 38% from 3-point range. Lewis and Hutcherson provide range for the Panthers and if Johnson is able to shoot from deep as well, this team will find more wins than they have in previous seasons.
Duquesne has a noticeable size advantage over Pitt. They have six players on their roster who are 6-foot-2 or taller compared to two on Pitt.
A big part of the team’s play this season is Xavier transfer and former Winchester Thurston star, junior forward Ayanna Townsend. She leads the Dukes in scoring with 14.7 points per game, with five blocks in her first three games and is second on the team averaging 8.0 rebounds per game.
The Dukes are also led by sophomore guards Megan McConnell and Tess Myers. McConnell leads the team in rebounds, averaging 9.3 per game, 19 assists, and in 70% shooting from the field, making 14 of her 20 shots. Myers provides range for the Dukes, leading the team with 10 3-pointers and shooting 45.5% from deep. She also is averaging 14.3 points per game, second highest on the team.
Burt is looking for his team to exploit the height advantage, while also continuing the team’s goal of shooting from long range to balance out the team’s attack.
“We’re going to do what we do and that’s gonna be defending the lane and not allowing dribble penetration on defense,” Burt said. “Then on offense, to get out there and let it fly and shoot a lot of threes and then have some balance with that where we can create mismatches and advantages in the post to score.”
White is looking for his team to counteract that size disadvantage by using their length and athleticism to their advantage. He views Duquesne as a team that is relentless and uses a great inside-out game to score points.
Duquesne also taps into the great talent in basketball in western Pennsylvania, with seven of the 14 players on the roster coming from the WPIAL. Guards in redshirt juniors Lauren Wasylson and Aniya Walker are from Mars and Ambridge Area, respectively, first-year Reilly Sunday is from Moon Area, redshirt first-year Olivia Westphal is from Bethel Park and Myers played for North Catholic.
McConnell and Pitt first-year guard Aislin Malcolm played for Chartiers Valley and saw great success there, which White said is a great part of the rivalry.
“I love that, I love having those kids playing together,” White said on Malcom and McConnell’s relationship. “Whether that be locally in AAU or from high schools and they know each other. Just really now getting to play at the college level against each other and with each other is really one of the coolest things about bringing all these kids together and letting them play.”
Much of the rivalry’s continuance on the women’s side is the great relationship between Burt and White. White said that the two of them look to highlight the great women’s basketball in the region and that this is one of the best ways to do that.
Burt spoke glowingly of White and that his presence keeps the rivalry a healthy one that both teams gain greatly from.
“Lance is a really nice gentleman and I mean that when I say gentleman,” Burt said. “It’s a situation where we don’t get together very often, but when we do see each other, he’s a good guy and he’s always got a laugh and a smile. He’s a good positive man and a good positive person. I’m always happy for their success except for one day a year.”
Both teams are currently 3-0 and looking to continue their perfect seasons in this City Game matchup. White said that it will be a great game that features two teams that will give it all to get the victory.
“Whenever we play, you can throw everything out the window,” White said. “It’s going to be two competitive teams and a back-and-forth game. I love that. It’ll be fast paced and two teams going at each other the best they can. It should be a great atmosphere and we need tons of people here at the Pete to really provide a great atmosphere for women’s basketball.”