Pitt prepares for 2nd round of NCAA Tournament
By: Andrew Stern
Sunday was a quiet day. The team ran through a closed practice session, in preparation for Monday’s big contest against the Lady Vols.
Head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, senior Brianna Kiesel, graduate student Monica Wignot, and freshman Stasha Carey all met the media.
My first impression of the team was simple. Clearly the team is extremely loose and excited for tomorrow’s matchup with second seeded Tennessee. All three players seemed up beat and jovial. It will be interesting to see how the demeanor might change as the game gets closer.
With all that being said, here are some of the highlights from Sunday’s media availability:
The team is clearly focused. Outside of a brief visit to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, the team has only been to the arena and the hotel.
The players are maybe the closest unit I’ve seen, and they really do seem to enjoy each other’s company. Coach noted that the players are “creatures of habit”, and that despite the cache of the Tournament, they haven’t deviated from their typical routines.
Respect for the hosts:
Suzy McConnell-Serio and her team certainly understand the history of this program, and how can you not.
Everywhere you look the history is there. Whether it’s the statue of Pat Summit outside the arena, the nearly 20 banners hanging in the actual gym, or the little museum they have in the building, the achievements are all over that.
With that being said, the coach certainly isn’t intimidated. She was quick to point out that she played against Tennessee when she played at Penn State, and trained here in Knoxville with the United States Olympic team.
Both Brianna Kiesel and Monica Wignot acknowledged following the program while they were growing up. Kiesel took it a step further, when she said that she was even a fan.
“Careying” the Load:
Freshman Stasha Carey was phenomenal yesterday. The Cleveland native contributed 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and three blocked shots. The most important part of her output yesterday was her foul shooting. Carey usually isn’t a particularly strong foul shooter. Her season average coming into the game was just under 60 percent. Yesterday, Carey shot five out of six.
If Pitt wants to have any chance of pulling out the upset, they need Carey to perform like she did against UTC.
Control the Glass:
Chattanooga owned the boards against Pitt on Saturday. The Lady Mocs had 18 offensive rebounds, to the Panthers five. Yesterday the Lady Vols were +18 on the glass, and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
Today, Suzy noted that Pitt needs to keep Tennessee off the glass to have any chance of advancing past this game.
The other thing the coach noticed is how well the Holly Warlick’s guards rebound the ball. Yesterday against Boise, Tennessee’s three starting guards combined for 14 rebounds.
Tempo, Tempo, Tempo:
Yesterday Pittsburgh did an excellent job of controlling the tempo. Chattanooga is a team that traditionally likes to dominate the pace of play. Their style is much slower, and more deliberate than Pitt’s is. The Panthers were quick to get the ball into the hands of Brianna Kiesel, who then pushed the tempo.
Tennessee, much like Pitt, likes to get out and run, so it’ll be interesting to see if the matchup tomorrow night turns into a track meet.
SEC/ACC Conference Game:
Holly Warlick noted a lot of similarities between Pitt and some of the SEC opponents UT played. The main similarity the coach noticed was athletically.
While Pitt may not be very deep, the team is extremely versatile. Each other seven main players they play bring a totally different element. Whether it’s 6-3 Monica Wignot shooting three pointers, or back to the basket post player Cora McManus, each player on this Pittsburgh roster brings a different element.
During Sunday’s media session, all three Panther’s players were asked about their road to this point. All three players had some interesting things to say.
Senior Brianna Kiesel, was closing to transferring. The Utica, NY native received her undergraduate degree in communications in just three years. As a result, the guard would have been able to enroll at any University in the country, as long as they had a grad program that Pitt didn’t offer.
Following the season, McConnell-Serio implored Kiesel to stick with the program, promising the senior that her final year with the Panthers would be special.
Graduate student Monica Wignot has also had an interesting road to this point. The 6-2 wing player, was a duel-sport athlete in the Scranton Wilkes-Barre area. Back when head coach Suzy McConnell-Serio was at nearby Duquesne she was trying lure Wignot to play basketball for the Dukes.
Wignot ended up passing up the opportunity to play for Duquesne, instead she chose Volleyball. After a very successful Volleyball career, McConnell-Serio approached the Central PA native about potentially playing basketball.
At first, Wignot wasn’t so sure. She recalls being a bit burned out by college athletics, and she was looking toward “moving into the real world”. However, as time passed Wignot realized she didn’t really have a post-graduation plan.
The more she thought about it, the more Wignot realized how great an opportunity it was. Wignot joked that she set her expectations low for this season, and that she wasn’t sure why they asked her.
Fast forward a few months, and Wignot has flourished. The forward is a starter for the team, and an integral part of the Panther’s rotation.
Despite being a freshman, Stasha Carey also had an interesting story. The 6-2 Cleveland native remembers falling in love with the coaching staff when they were in charge of the Duquesne program.
Carey went as far as to say that the coaching staff “had her heart”. When she visited Pitt, Carey saw just how much the help the program needed.
The freshman also mentioned Suzy’s background in professional sports. Carey knew that McConnell-Serio played in the WNBA, and played for the Olympic team.
When asked what specifically the staff told her when she was being recruited, Carey joked that she didn’t really remember, because she wasn’t paying attention.
Carey was certainly listing to the coaching staff on Saturday, as the freshman was a major reason the team handed Chattanooga their first loss in 25 games.
During the media availability, I asked McConnell-Serio about the play of freshman guard Aysia Bugg.
While Bugg’s stats aren’t flashy, the guard was really impressive on Saturday. She scored eight points, and dished out two assists in her 36 minutes of play. She hit two clutch jump shots, a trait that she had showed earlier in the season, but had been absent the past few months.
Bugg, along with Kiesel, played the most minutes of any Pittsburgh player, and the Chicago native was forced to play the point for a little bit of the first half on Saturday due to foul trouble.
Having a second ball-handler behind the primary one, Kiesel, is an important luxury to have, as it alleviates some of the pressure on the senior guard.
Bugg also did an excellent job guarding SoCon All-Conference player Chelsey Shumpert. It will be interesting to see who Bugg will guard tomorrow night against Tennessee, but my guess is fellow Illinois native, and senior star Ariel Massengale.
Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick wasn’t shy about who would guard Kiesel.
When asked, the former star player at Tennessee, said that sophomore Andraya Carter would get the assignment.
Carter did an excellent job of guarding Brooke Pahukoa, who scored just four points in the second half, after dropping 18 points on 7-7 shooting. Pauhukoa made just two of her five shot attempts in the second half.
Monday’s game is being held at Thompson-Boiling Arena on the campus of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Tip off is scheduled for 6:40 PM, and can be heard live on 92.1 FM. Follow @WPTSSports for live game updates and analysis.