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Pitt

Returning players give Pitt women confidence after 18-loss season

| Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, 6:36 p.m.
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.
Pitt's Yacine Diop shoots a jump shot in the paint against Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey 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 in the paint against Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey during the Panthers 65-55 loss to the Fighting Irish at the Petersen Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2015.

Pitt women's basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said it was a “great summer,” and not just because she guided the USA under-18 team to the FIBA Americas gold medal in Chile.

Her Panthers looked sharp during workouts, she said, developing confidence and chemistry and finding successful combinations on the floor.

All that likely will pay off in time, or once the team rids itself of an injury bug that has interfered with preseason preparation. The most notable absence is Yacine Diop, the junior frontcourt mainstay from Seton-La Salle who was named as one of 15 finalists for the Senegal Olympic team. She didn't make the final cut, but it was still an achievement.

Diop, the second-leading scorer and No. 3 rebounder last season, has been nursing an injured foot for several weeks. McConnell-Serio hopes to have her back by Thanksgiving, along with guards Cassidy Walsh (ankle), and Tania Lamb (foot), and her daughter, Madison Serio (foot), who also are on the mend.

“I'm not sure what is,” McConnell-Serio said of the foot-related injuries. “We can't say it's the floor or the shoes. It is what it is.”

Once at full strength, the Panthers figure to improve upon last season's 13-18 mark. It was a young team, and with just two seniors, it is young once again. But it is more grown up.

“We have some experience,” said McConnell-Serio, starting her fourth season with the Panthers.

Diop, forward Brenna Wise and point guard Aysia Bugg started all 31 games last season, and forward Kalista Walters started 19. They are among seven of the top nine returning scorers.

Foremost among the young and experienced is Wise, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman. In a win over North Carolina and a loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament, the Vincentian Academy product averaged 21 points and eight rebounds.

But it's more about numbers with Wise.

“She set the tone with her work ethic and getting in the gym, and that has become contagious,” McConnell-Serio said. “When you talk about changing the culture, players are working hard and competing every day in practice. She's bringing out the best in them, and they're bringing out the best in her. She's a natural leader.”

Diop was “playing unbelievably well” before her injury, McConnell-Serio said. Walters, a sophomore who shot 51 percent last season also is game-tested. Sophomore forward Kauai Bradley, who came off the bench, “is a different player” who is showing greater confidence and improvement in just about every area,” her coach said.

McConnell-Serio said freshman guard Alayna Gribble, a scoring machine at Norwin, already is the best long-distance shooter on the squad with a chance to crack the starting lineup.

“Alayna's getting a feel for the offense and where her shots are coming from,” McConnell-Serio said.

Another freshman, guard Jasmine Whitney, also shows promise and figures to share time with Bugg at the point.

“She's mature like Brenna,” McConnell-Serio said of Whitney. “Jasmine shows a quiet confidence on the floor.”

Center Stasha Carey, who started 63 games in two seasons, transferred to Rutgers. But McConnell-Serio landed a transfer of her own, Brandi Harvey-Carr, to help fill the void left by last season's top shot-blocker, No. 2 rebounder and third-leading scorer. Carey also led the team in steals.

A 6-foot-4 graduate transfer, Harvey-Carr averaged just 2.5 points and 1.8 rebounds for DePaul but will play a bigger role for the Panthers, McConnell-Serio said.

Bob Cohn is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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