There are plenty of reasons the showdown between Pitt and Duquesne today is more than just a game.
The Panthers (6-2) have a chance to validate a hot start and show that last year's 8-22 season was just growing pains for a young, promising team
The Dukes (7-1) could add a major-conference win to their potential NCAA tournament resume and further establish themselves as the dominant women's basketball team in Pittsburgh. Duquesne has won the past three meetings between the two rivals.
As is usually the case with schools just a few miles apart, there are some bragging rights on the line, too.
Still, both coaches are approaching today's game as just one on a schedule of 30-plus.
- Matchup: Pitt (6-2) at Duquesne (7-1), 2 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.
- Radio, Internet: WJAS-AM (1320), GoDuquesne.com.
- Pitt: Coming off a 57-47 win Wednesday against Loyola (Md.). ... Coach Agnus Berenato tied Kirk Bruce for the most wins in Pitt history Wednesday with her 158th victory. ... Junior F Asia Logan leads team with 15.5 points per game. Sophomore G Brianna Kiesel (11.6 ppg) and junior G Ashlee Anderson (10.8 ppg) also average in double figures. ... Nine players average more than 12 minutes per game.
- Duquesne: Coming off a 69-38 win Wednesday against Saint Francis. ... Has won its past three games against Pitt. ... Junior F Wumi Agunbiade leads Duquesne with 13.3 points and 8 rebounds per game. ... Has only allowed one opponent to score more than 60 points.
- Hidden stat: Pitt averaged 19.8 turnovers per game last season and 20.6 in its first three games this season. In the past five games, it has cut turnovers down to 12 per game.
"I'm sure there's going to be emotion on both sides of the floor, but when the tip goes up, it's still just another game," Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.
Of course, it really can't be "just another game" -- not when players on both teams know each other so well. Players on both rosters regularly scrimmage together in the summer, and many have close friends that will be sitting on the other bench when the teams face off.
"Our players, I could hear them talking to each other about, 'She likes to do this,' " McConnell-Serio said. "They just remember from playing pickup over the summer. They know the tendencies of some of these players. There is familiarity."
Pitt point guard Brianna Kiesel said she isn't concerned about playing against her summertime scrimmage mates.
"On the court, that's when we become competitors," Kiesel said.
Both teams enter today's game riding hot streaks of sorts. The Dukes have won six in a row and look poised to make a serious run at an NCAA tournament bid this season.
Perhaps the best sign for McConnell-Serio's squad has been the improvement of junior forward Wumi Agunbiade as the season has progressed. After a slow start partially hindered by offseason knee surgery, Agunbiade has posted a double-double in four of Duquesne's past six games.
"She's developing that chemistry with your teammates," McConnell-Serio said. "She's really starting to play like her old self and do some good things for us."
On the other side, Pitt coach Agnus Berenato cited experience as the key reason her team is off to a good start. The Panthers have no seniors on their roster, but many of their key players gained experience from last year's disappointing campaign.
Kiesel, a sophomore, averages 11.6 points per game and has a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio this season.
Asia Logan leads the Panthers with 15.5 points per game. She scored 36 points -- the most for a Pitt player at the Petersen Events Center -- and made two winning free throws in the final seconds of Pitt's 76-74 win against William & Mary Nov. 11.
Berenato said that game, as well as Pitt's 58-57 win against Brown on a 3-pointer from Abby Dowd with five seconds left, showed how far her team has come from last year.
"When we beat Brown, when we hit that 3, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have lost by 20 last year," Berenato said. "It was a huge victory because I felt like we're learning, we're getting it."duquesnesports - pittsports
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.