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Pitt Women's Basketball

Pitt Women’s Basketball Defeats Yale in Season Opener

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Pitt women's basketball player Liatu King

PITTSBURGH — Pitt women’s basketball struggled at times throughout their match with Yale, but managed to pull out a close 79-74 victory to open up the 2023-24 season at the Petersen Events Center Tuesday night.

The Panthers (1-0) victory over the Bulldogs (0-1) makes it their fifth straight season with a win in the home opener and the fourth straight season with a win in the opening game. The win over the Bulldogs is also the first ever between the two programs and the first Ivy League win for the Panthers since a 51-39 win at home over the Cornell Big Red in November 2017.

Pitt initially started out with a 9-2 run, but Yale responded by scoring seven straight points to tie it up at 9-9 at the media timeout. Yale took advantage of poor shooting from Pitt and built a 23-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The game changed in the second quarter, as the referees chose to start awarding more fouls. Yale received 10 fouls with Pitt taking advantage, making 10 of their 13 attempts from the free throw line, with senior forward Liatu King making all five of her free throws.

Pitt also held Yale to 3-for-12 shooting from the field in the second quarter, allowing them to outscore Yale 24-11 to earn a 42-34 lead at halftime.

The Panthers continued to improve offensively to begin the third quarter, with an 11-4 run to increase their lead to 53-38. The Bulldogs then went on a scoring run of their own, thanks to great shooting, as they made 5-of-7 shots down the stretch to cut the Panthers advantage to just six points at 58-52.

Pitt built their lead back up to double digits at 71-61 with six minutes remaining and again off a 3-pointer from the logo by USC transfer junior guard Bella Perkins to make it a 76-66 game with 2:15 remaining.

Yale didn’t quit and managed to cut the lead to two points, 76-74, with just 1:19 left in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Jenna Clark, a Thomas Jefferson alum, hit two 3-pointers off second-chance opportunities and senior forward Brenna McDonald provided a layup herself.

Perkins once again came up big for the Panthers, as she hit another logo 3-pointer to put them up by five points with just 49 seconds left. Sophomore guard Marley Washenitz drew a foul on the ensuing Bulldogs possession and gave the Panthers the ball back with 35 seconds remaining.

Yale then chose not to foul, despite only having five seconds left in the game and facing a five-point deficit, which allowed Pitt to run down the clock and win the game.

The win serves as the first victory under new Pitt women’s basketball head coach Tory Verdi. He joined the program in April after serving as head coach of UMass the previous seven seasons, which saw him make an NCAA Tournament in 2022.

Verdi spoke on how this win is a culmination of the past seven months of building a great culture and, essentially, an entirely new program. The victory, to Verdi, shows that change and the growth of the program within that time.

“I thought tonight, our mental toughness is why we won,” Verdi said. “I’m not sure if we had this day one. So it’s been a journey. I’m just super happy. We took their best punch and we did a great job of executing down the stretch and scoring when we needed to.”

Verdi was also surprised that Yale chose not to foul on the final Pitt possession. He devised many scenarios, but when they didn’t foul, he told his players to bring the ball up the floor and waste as much time as possible.

“That’s fine, that’s what they chose to do,” Verdi said. “Regardless of what they did, our execution down the stretch was on point and I’m just super proud of our players.”

Perkins led the Panthers with 21 points, while shooting 9-for-20 from the floor and 3-for-8 from behind the arc. Those two big 3-pointers are something that she is comfortable taking going forward and has confidence as a shooter in the final minute.

“Honestly, nothing,” Perkins said on what she was thinking about on the last 3-pointer. “I just let it fly. I was in rhythm and I felt confident shooting the ball…I just let it fly.”

King led Pitt with 16 points and 14 rebounds for her 10th career double-double. She made five of her nine shots from the field and finished 6-for-7 from the foul line. Junior forward Rapuluchi Ayodele finished first on Pitt with seven offensive rebounds and was third with 11 rebounds, while also scoring nine points on the night.

Seton Hall transfer in graduate student forward Jala Jordan, despite fouling out, had 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting, along with five rebounds and three assists. She enjoyed her first official experience playing under Verdi and is excited for the season ahead.

“Yes it was what I expected,” Jordan said. “Honestly, coach and the staff get us more than prepared and everything like that. I’m happy to be here.”

Pitt women’s basketball will face rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl on Saturday at 2 p.m. at home, which will serve as the first Power 5 matchup of Verdi’s coaching tenure in Oakland.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Kowboygoc
Kowboygoc
8 months ago

Enjoy the victory ladies. Going to be a long winter. Improve each day and move to the next. Rinse and repeat. H2P.

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