Trio of Pitt freshmen paying early dividends for women's team
Pitt's three freshmen were never going to have the luxury of easing into Division I play, coming off the bench and leaving the important minutes to a group of seasoned upperclassmen.
Coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said before the season's opening tipoff that her freshmen were going to have to make an impact right away, and they have not let her down.
Forwards Stasha Carey and Yacine Diop and guard Aysia Bugg are the Panthers' third-, fourth-, and fifth-leading scorers, respectively, behind senior Brianna Kiesel and grad student Monica Wignot.
• Carey, 6-foot-2, is nearly averaging a double-double, with 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. She is the seventh-best rebounder in the ACC. Her 3-point field goal percentage of .500 ranks second in the conference, her average of 1.2 blocks per game is ranked No. 11 and her defensive rebounding average of 6.3 per game is third best.
• The 5-10 Diop is 14th in the conference in rebounds with an average of 6.9 per game, is averaging 9.2 points per game and is one of the Panthers' best defensive players.
• Bugg, 5-7, gives them another ball-handler when Kiesel is on the floor, has the 10th-best assist-turnover ratio in the conference at 1.7, and is averaging 8.2 points per game.
Carey and Diop have started all 13 games, while Bugg has started the last 11.
“It was scary at first because obviously we didn't know what we were coming into,” Carey said. “But at the end of the day it's nice to know someone's depending on us.”
Over the first 11 games, the trio accounted for 35.4 percent of Pitt's scoring, 49 percent of its rebounding, 33 percent of its assists and 44 percent of its steals.
In the final two games of the nonconference schedule, when Pitt beat Saint Francis (Pa.) and Delaware State by a combined score of 190-117, the three combined for 83 points, 48 rebounds, 21 assists and 16 turnovers.
When opponents key on leading scorer and ball handler Kiesel, it has opened up the other three at different times. As they have more experience, all three have improved at recognizing how to take advantage of those situations.
“It's been a game-by-game among the three of them of who's been more productive,” said McConnell-Serio, in her second season at Pitt. “When they can all be that productive, we're going to be pretty dangerous. But we need ACC experience because there's nothing like it. I think we're in for a rude awakening when we get into ACC play.”
That bucket of ice water to the face comes Sunday, when Pitt opens conference play against visiting No. 7 Louisville.
The Panthers are 10-3 with nine wins in a row at Petersen Events Center, so these are certainly better days than they have seen in a long time. The schedule doesn't get any easier after Louisville, though, with No. 9 North Carolina coming to town Thursday. The Panthers travel to Florida State and Georgia Tech, host No. 21 Syracuse on Jan. 22 then close out the month at No. 10 Duke on Jan. 29.
“More aggressive, faster pace,” Bugg said of what she expects from conference play.
Added Carey, “Bigger girls. Much bigger girls.”
The newest Panthers aren't entirely unprepared, however. Pitt beat Michigan (9-4) at home, 85-64, on Nov. 20. They traveled to Ohio State and beat them, too, 78-74, on Dec. 3, and the Buckeyes recently knocked off then-No. 21 West Virginia, 96-54.
With just a two-game improvement over last year's 3-13 ACC record, the Panthers would enter the conference tournament with a winning record. The last time Pitt finished a season above .500 was 2009-10 when it went 16-15.
“We're head and shoulders above where we were (at this time last year),” McConnell-Serio said. “We're so much further along offensively, defensively, team chemistry, it's completely different. We've come a long way.”