PITTSBURGH — Pitt women’s basketball battled back in the second half against rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl, but fell just short, losing 71-62 Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers (1-1) loss to the Mountaineers (2-0) is the sixth consecutive, dating back to 2011, when both programs played in the Big East Conference. This is the first matchup between the two teams since December 2018, five seasons ago, which saw the Mountaineers pull out a 77-43 win on the road.
West Virginia utilized a press for almost the entirety of the game that befuddled Pitt and forced a number of turnovers. They started out the game on a 12-4 run in the first three minutes of the game, thanks to two forced turnovers against Pitt.
The Panthers came back to cut the lead to just two off of a 10-4 run, 16-14, with four points each from forwards in senior Liatu King and junior college transfer Rapuluchi Ayodele. The Moutaineers responded by forcing five turnovers scoring seven points off them to take a 23-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
WVU continued to use the press to trap Pitt players and it worked best at the beginning of the second quarter, as they started on a 13-0 run in the first three minutes. They forced seven turnovers during that time, scoring nine points off of them to increase their lead to 35-16.
Just like the first quarter, the Panthers managed to cut down on the mistakes and then into their deficit, using a 13-4 run to make it a 10-point game going in to halftime, 39-29. King scored eight points and Ayodele scored five to keep the Panthers in the contest.
Aydoele and King kept that great play going into the second half, as they spurred a 11-0 run to begin the third quarter to help Pitt take a 40-39 lead with 6:46 remaining.
“The four or five that was out there with me, I would just tell them, “Three minutes, just three minutes,” King said on making the comeback. “And before even the half had ended, I think we were down by almost 15 and I’m like, “Let’s cut it to eight.” We got on a little run and we cut it to 10, and so that gave us a boost and some good momentum to end the half, even though we weren’t up or tied or anything, that gave us good momentum to end the half and that’s how we came out in the third quarter the way we did.”
West Virginia fifth-year guard Lauren Fields responded with back-t0-back 3-pointers, to regain the lead, but Ayodele and King scored off two turnovers to cut the lead back to one.
The Mountaineers would increase their advantage off of a 9-3 run to end the third quarter, with redshirt junior guard Ky’ah Watson scoring two baskets to propel her team to a 54-47 lead.
Pitt would attempt to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, but West Virginia held them off, not letting them within less than five points en route to the victory.
The 28 turnovers Pitt women’s basketball committed tied a program record for most in a game at the Petersen Events Center, as they committed 28 turnovers against WVU in that matchup in 2018.
Sophomore guard Marley Washentiz also set a record for most turnovers committed in a single game at the Petersen Events Center with 12 in the loss. She also scored just two points on two free throws and fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
Panthers head coach Tory Verdi was not surprised with the press that the Mountaineers utilized that led to those turnovers. He said that it’s hard to win games with the amount of turnovers they committed and that they have to work on it going forward.
“We knew, we knew,” Verdi said on the WVU press. “I think it would’ve been for them, that positive. I wasn’t concerned that we would’ve handled their pressure. I mean we play against male players every day and they’re fast. Their pressure has never bothered us, so whatever it was, I just think that they sped us up significantly and made us do things that normally, we don’t do. Obviously it had a major impact on us and we’ll continue to get better from that and learn from it.”
King finished with a career-high 28 points, shooting 10-for-23 from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line. She also had 14 rebounds, for her second consecutive double-double, as she had one against Yale in the season opener on Tuesday.
Ayodele had her first double-double as a Panther, scoring 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds. She also led the team with three steals and three blocks and credited her teammates on the great relationships she has built so far.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to work everyday,” Ayodele said. “Thanks to my teammates. It’s something that I do in practice, I work on that in practice.”
Pitt women’s basketball will go on the road for the first time this season, as they face George Mason next Wednesday in Fairfax, Va. at 4 p.m.