For 20 minutes, it looked like this might finally be the game Pitt would end its Big East losing streak.
The Panthers hung tough with Villanova for the first half Saturday night, but couldn't keep pace in the second and fell to the Wildcats, 68-52.
The loss marks Pitt's 20th consecutive conference defeat, dating to the 2011 Big East tournament.
Still, Panthers coach Agnus Berenato was optimistic after the game.
"You have to crawl before you walk," she said. "I don't have seven seniors that have five years of experience. I have a young class. I'll take this class, and we're going to battle."
Pitt trailed, 33-31, heading into the second half, but the Wildcats slowly pulled away. After Brianna Kiesel hit a 3-pointer for Pitt to cut Villanova's lead to 45-41 with 14:21 to go, the Wildcats put together a 12-2 run and put the game away.
After shooting poorly in the first half, Villanova hit five of its nine 3-point attempts in the second -- including its first four -- and worked the ball around effectively to get several easy looks at the basket. The Wildcats finished the game with 24 assists and seven turnovers.
"[Last night,] I was dreaming of back-pick flairs, slice cuts and slips," Berenato said. "I have to just tell you, I'm glad that's over."
Asia Logan led the Panthers with 21 points, and Kiesel added 11.
"I'm so confident, and I enjoy this team so much," Berenato said. "We are getting better."
The Panthers got off to a slow start and didn't make their first field goal until Loliya Briggs hit a 3-pointer 6:15 into the game. At that point, the Wildcats already had sprinted out to an 11-2 lead.
Villanova used its quick and crisp passing to pad that lead. The Wildcats outscored Pitt, 14-8, in the paint in the opening 20 minutes and got a lot of easy looks thanks to their sharp ball movement.
"We know they're going to make 3s," Logan said. "It's just how we react, how we bounce back that's really important."
Outside shooting, though, was another story. Villanova, which averages 24.4 3-point attempts per game, made 4 of 18 shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
Pitt slowly climbed back into it over the rest of the first half, finally taking its first lead with 2:35 left before halftime when Logan nailed a 3 to make it 27-25.
Logan finished the half with 11 points, and Briggs chipped in eight.
"The first half was just a fabulous game, an unbelievable game," Berenato said. "I'm proud of my team. They hit us with a punch, and we came back."
According to Berenato, that comeback is a sign of how much better Pitt is this year than last, even though it has not translated into more conference victories.
"We came back, we played," she said. "I'm not going to go out and kick the kids or go home and kick my dog ... I'm going to go watch [upcoming opponent] St. John's."
Pitt returns to action Wednesday night at St. John's.
The Panthers' previous regular-season conference win came Feb. 15, 2011 against Providence.
But Berenato and her players were upbeat and confident that the streak would come to an end, and soon.
"After a loss, there's always another game out there," Kiesel said. "We take what we did wrong, fix what we did wrong."
• Game: Pitt (9-6, 0-2 Big East) at St. John's (8-6, 2-0), Queens, N.Y.
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
• Radio: WJAS-AM (1320).
• The skinny: Entering Saturday, Pitt's Asia Logan (16.5) was seventh in the Big East in scoring.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SWernerPG.