Late free throws lead Tennessee past Pittsburgh despite Kiesel’s career night
By: Andrew Stern
Down by 14 with five minutes to go, Pittsburgh’s season was on life support.
With their backs against the wall, the Panthers responded.
The team went on 15-5 run over the next four minutes, and cut the Lady Vols lead to just four with 38 seconds left.
Fighting an up-hill battle against the clock, Pittsburgh was forced to foul.
Tennessee senior Ariel Massengale went to the line with 37 ticks left on the clock, and converted a pair of free throws. Just 10 seconds later, up by just four, Massengale made another two clutch free throws.
In the final 90 seconds of the game, Tennessee shot 9-10 from the free throw line, and grabbed three offensive rebounds.
Before the tip, Pittsburgh (20-12) was charged with a two shot technical foul for not putting their starters into the official game book. Ariel Massengale missed both free throws, so the game still tipped at 0-0.
In the opening five minutes of Monday’s game, Tennessee couldn’t miss.
The Lady Vols, behind Bashaara Graves (21 points, 14 rebounds) and Cierra Burdick, opened the first half seven for their first nine.
This burst propelled Tennessee to 15-4 lead just 5:22 in. Over the next four minutes, Pitt started to settle down. The Panthers were able to cut lead to just six.
However, the Volunteers were able to maintain the 11 point margin deep into the opening half. Once the halftime buzzer sounded, the Lady Vols had 12 point lead.
In the first half, senior Brianna Kiesel scored just eight points on 2-8 shooting from the floor. The senior guard was also just 4-6 from the line. Kiesel also took two hard falls in the half, and was seen flexing her elbow in the final minute of the half.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players. The way they responded, and came out in the second half was amazing. We went into this game with a game plan [and] we executed the game plan. Defensively we were doing a lot of good things. I thought we were a little nervous, a little rattled through the first half. I pick and choose who I’m going to challenge and it was probably one of my calmest half time speeches that I have given them all year because I knew we needed to settle down. They responded,” Suzie McConnell-Serio said.
Following the half time break, the Panthers lead by their playmaker Kiesel came out desperate.
The Panthers opened the half on 9-0 run, cutting the Tennessee lead to just five with 17:51 remaining in the ball game. During this spurt, Kiesel scored seven of the teams nine points.
With the pressure starting to mount, Tennessee responded with a 12-3 run over the next four minutes, pushing their lead back to a comfortable 12.
The teams continued to battle, but Pitt couldn’t cut the Tennessee below double digits.
With the clock continuing to dip closer and closer to zero, Kiesel took over. The senior and freshman Yacine Diop each scored eight points in the final minutes of the contest.
The deficit would prove to be insurmountable, as the Panthers weren’t able to tie the game or take the lead.
Kiesel scored a career and game high 32 points, and played all 40 minutes. The performance was extremely impressive, because Kiesel was being pressed and face guarded by one of the best defensive players in the country.
Tennessee had four players in double figures, and out rebounded the Panthers 46-29. The Lady Vols had 21 offensive rebounds, and shot 18-24 from the line.
The loss was Suzie McConnell-Serio’s first career NCAA Tournament loss. The loss also ended the careers of grad student Monica Wignot, senior Cora McManus, and the aforementioned Kiesel.
Despite the disappointing ending, Kiesel has no regrets.
“I gave it all I had today. I absolutely love the University of Pittsburgh, the last four years I couldn’t have asked for a better university to play for. I will always bleed blue and gold. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to play for the last two years. She’s the one that changed me into the player that I am,” the Central NY native said
Kiesel continued, “No one expected anything from us [this year], we were ranked 15th in the ACC out of 15, and we made it to the second round in the NCAA Tournament. I’m just so honored to be able wear Pittsburgh across my chest,” she said.
Kiesel finished the season with 1938 points, and 433 career assists. The 1938 points, ranks fifth on the all-time Pittsburgh scoring list. Earlier in the season, Kiesel became the first person to score 1500 points, grab 500 rebounds, and dish out 400 assists.
Kiesel averaged 18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game this past season. She scored at least 20 points 17 times this season.
The Panthers were one of the youngest teams in the NCAA this season. They will return six of their nine players from this past season, and will have a five person top-30 recruiting class next season.
“They just never quit, never stop believing in themselves and each other,” the coach said.
“They played their hearts out, [and] they wore their hearts on their sleeves. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort. To speak of Brianna Kiesel, who I believe [scored] a career high, against Tennessee, in the NCAA Tournament on their floor. She played 40 minutes being dogged from end to end. The entire possession she had the ball in her hands, working hard defensively. For her to end her career, I know it’s a sad day for me, because now we never have a chance to be together again. That’s the disappointing part. I’ll never have the opportunity to coach her anymore. I’m so proud what she had done this year, and what she has meant to our program, taking it to new heights,” McConnell-Serio said.