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Pitt women hope up-tempo style helps them compete in ACC

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 5:30 p.m.
Yacine Diop, a Seton LaSalle graduate, returns to the Pitt lineup this season after sitting out all of last season with a foot injury.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Yacine Diop, a Seton LaSalle graduate, returns to the Pitt lineup this season after sitting out all of last season with a foot injury.
Pitt's Yacine Diop shoots a jump shot against Notre Dame's Hannah Huffman during the Panthers 65-55 loss to the Fighting Irish at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Yacine Diop shoots a jump shot against Notre Dame's Hannah Huffman during the Panthers 65-55 loss to the Fighting Irish at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015.

When Pitt women's basketball players Yacine Diop and Kauai Bradley were asked to use one word to describe their team, coach Suzie McConnell-Serio was surprised by their choice.

“What was the word?” McConnell-Serio said to the women, forcing them to repeat what they said while playing a board game recently at ACC media days in Charlotte, N.C.

“Goofy,” Diop said.

The coach laughed.

“This is not a word I would have chosen,” she said. “I would have (chosen) motivated, hard-working.”

Yet, goofy fits this group.

“They talked about what the locker room is like. All they talked about is how silly it is. It's dancing. It's singing,” McConnell-Serio said. “So, when you hear things like that, that's carrying over. It's that way in the locker room. It's that way on the court. When it carries over on the court, you have something special.”

McConnell-Serio enters her fifth season as Pitt's coach, hoping to make more of an impact in the ACC than the team did the past two years when it was 8-24 in conference games.

“Our goal is to get to the middle of the conference,” she said. “Three years ago, when we got to the middle of the conference, we were able to make the NCAA Tournament, so it's one step at a time. We are a work in progress.”

The women are changing in many ways this season, most notably hoping to promote an up-tempo offensive style. McConnell-Serio calls it a “pistol offense.”

“The way we talked about playing is a faster style, more up-tempo,” she said. “We would like to put points on the board. We're not looking to run the shot clock down under 10. We are looking to attack early and often, make or miss.

“I just want our players to play free and confident and be able to push tempo, play hard, just make it more exciting for them to be part of on the court.”

Said Bradley: “It makes it easier to get open shots and create.”

Pitt's quicker style was on display in its 73-68 exhibition loss to IUP on Sunday. Pitt attempted 60 shots, hitting 28 (46.7 percent), but IUP scored 22 points off turnovers.

The most significant change on the team is the loss of 6-foot forward Brenna Wise, who led the team in scoring the past two seasons. Wise transferred to Indiana — where she will sit out this season — after starting every game of her two-year Pitt tenure. Last season, she averaged 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds.

“She just wanted something different,” McConnell-Serio said. “I guess not making the NCAA Tournament the last two years or being in postseason was the reason she wanted to leave.

“We did everything for her. She was the face of the program, but players, you just never know what they're thinking. The way the transfer rate is (across the NCAA), nothing surprises me anymore.”

Even without Wise, Pitt has a roster mix that includes three returning starters, plus junior college transfer Danielle Garven and five freshmen.

Among the returnees are Kalista Walters and Bradley. Diop, a 5-foot-10 junior forward from McConnell-Serio's alma mater, Seton LaSalle, missed last season with a stress fracture in her foot but is recovered and hoping to regain her scoring touch. She scored 15 against IUP after averaging 10.4 points two years ago.

Plus, senior point guard Aysia Bugg, who averaged 7.1 points last season, is expected back from a knee injury in January.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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