The City Game is always a tale of two rivals who have a clear respect for each other but will stop at nothing to earn bragging rights and pride.
In one corner was a Pitt side which believes it has pieces together to put forth a cohesive unit. Defensively the team has displayed promise and had found multiple ways to win.
Duquesne represented the other corner, and it is a young side, learning but also determined to avenge a loss from last year.
Both unbeaten coming into Saturday, one side had to flinch. Something had to give, and Duquesne was the first to flinch losing 61-45.
For Pitt this was a win where despite losing two starting guards it found a positive result.
First Channise Lewis rolled her ankle in the Bryant win and did not play, and leading scorer Dayshannete Harris has a lower-body injury suffered in this game. Harris attempted to return to the game but was unable.
Both injuries are considered short term.
“I’m extremely excited with the way that we played today, Pitt coach Lance White stated. “You’re a guard short and then those next kids had to step up. Emy (Hayford) and Sandrine (Clesca) did a great job of assuming that role. 11 turnovers with no starting back court when Day got hurt. I’m pleased with where we’re at.”
Duquesne coach Dan Burt took the loss very hard as simply put his team did not make shots to the extent of a 26.3% shooting clip.
For Burt, the mandatory 10-minute cooling off period was not enough time for him to shoulder all of the blame for this loss.
“That’s about as poor as we’ve played in the City Game in my time here at Duquesne, he said. “Pitt did a very good job in coaching its players and having every answer. They did a fantastic job of exploiting our weaknesses. On our end we shot the ball poorly and you can’t win basketball games when you shoot 26%. The crowd was 60/40 or 50/50 and I feel like we let our fans down and girls’ basketball down. We could’ve played a lot better, and we didn’t do that today.”
KING RISES TO THE OCCASION
Last season, Liatu King had a breakout game with 12 points and nine rebounds against Duquesne. This year she went out and topped that with her career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds, good for a second consecutive double double.
Whether she finished with a hook shot, buzzer beater or drained a mid-range jumper in front of a vocal Duquesne bench, King was a consistent presence on the court.
“It felt good to go out there, she stated. “I knew this game was for the city, a lot of bragging rights. I knew we couldn’t accept anything other than a W by all means necessary. Whatever I had to do, I wanted to do. I wanted to help my team and be successful with that. I was just tuned in with the team to be successful on both ends of the floor.”
Though Pitt did not have a second double-figure scorer, all 11 players who saw the court scored, which tremendously pleased White.
He was seeking that spark and, in his mind, this was a battle his team had to win.
Though it was time new roles and more minutes to be taken on, Pitt consistently put itself in successful position and won practically all of its 50-50 battles.
There certainly was an adjustment period to not having Harris or Lewis for most and almost all of the game as evidenced by one assist on 14 first-half field goals, which required greater individual effort to score.
Pitt would rebound assisting on seven of 10 second-half baskets.
Following the triumph, it was clear White saw the value in this City Game and how it will now propel the team forward for its next three games in Fort Myers.
“You emotionally get higher in this game, and it feels more like an ACC-type game because of the emotion,” said White. “There are huge bragging rights with this game, and people talk about it in the city. It forces you to tighten up and that helps us.”
BURT DISPLEASED WITH TEAM’S PERFORMANCE
Duquesne went cold early and often from the field and as Burt alluded to earlier nothing fell.
The Dukes started as a nervous side and a cold streak at the end of the first half coincided with a 9-0 Pitt run.
Duquesne never truly recovered and were also held scoreless in the final five minutes thwarting any comeback opportunity.
Burt has always told his team if no scoring opportunities are there to create them by attacking the basket with a defender on the hip and go up through contact.
Duquesne instead settled for rolling off contact which only further limited driving opportunities.
To her credit, Tess Myers attempted to drive the lane on Duquesne’s first possession only to be met with King’s hand, one of her three blocks on the evening. This driving effort was not contagious enough according to Burt.
“We didn’t establish our post game where we had an advantage we felt early and often,” he said. “In this game Yanni (Townsend) should not be taking nine shots, she should be taking 15-16 shots. I did not do a good job of getting us in a position where we could post feed Yanni to go to work. We were never comfortable offensively and a lot of that credit goes to Pitt.”
Duquesne was an upset side in the postgame locker room as one who has followed the City Game will expect.
It will have to quickly regroup Tuesday for its home contest against Siena.
“There’s a certain tradition we’ve had in the past and that tradition is hemorrhaging very frankly in a sense because we’ve lost two in a row, concluded Burt. “That makes the series and game all the more exciting when we play it next year.”