MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There are only so many ways a coach can diplomatically say "we stunk" in a postgame news conference without coming out and saying it.
Pitt women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato explored every one of them in the aftermath of the Panthers' 56-35 loss to No. 11 West Virginia last night at the WVU Coliseum.
"Offensively we just did not perform, we did not execute," she said. "Defensively, we held them to only 56 points and they are a really good team, a really good team. They really pushed up on us defensively, and we just weren't prepared to handle it, and I'll take responsibility because it is my job to have them prepared."
West Virginia (20-3, 9-1 Big East) scored only 20 points in the first 15 minutes of the game and still led by 16. The Panthers missed 23 of their first 25 shots and had only four points with 4:37 left in the first half.
Pitt finished the half 4 for 28 (20.3 percent) and shot 12 of 59 for the game. Even more telling was that Pitt had only three assists to 20 turnovers.
Pitt's starting five was a combined 5 for 30, scored only 17 points, had no assists and committed 14 turnovers. The Panthers' two leading scorers, Shavonte Zellous and Marcedes Walker, combined for eight points -- 26 below their combined average.
"Pitt is a very good basketball team, they just struggled some on offense tonight," said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. "And I thought we did a good job of fronting Walker and making them pass it over us. I think Walker's ankle is still bothering her, I've seen her move a lot better than she did tonight so I think she is still struggling with that ankle. But that being said, I thought Olayinka [Sanni] rose to the challenge."
The Panthers managed only 13 points in the first half, their worst offensive half since December 2003 -- Berenato's first season -- when they scored only 13 points in the first half of a 72-48 loss to Xavier.
It was a tremendously disappointing game for the Panthers (18-6, 8-3), who are ranked No. 18 but have lost two in a row for the first time this season and must face No. 2 Connecticut (23-1, 10-1) Sunday at the Petersen Center.
Berenato said it was tough to watch the Panthers struggle so much on offense but added that the Mountaineers' pressure defense had a lot to do with their offensive inefficiency.
"When the halftime score is 25-13, it was obviously a low-scoring defensive game. So when you look at the percentages and you are shooting only 14 percent in the first half, you can't just say, 'We had an off night' -- even though we were missing everything -- because you have to credit West Virginia because they played so well on defense. It was a defensive battle and they just made a few more shots than we did."
The Mountaineers were only slightly better on offense -- they shot 37 percent and had more turnovers (15) than assists (14), too -- but they did get a huge game out Sanni, their standout center. She scored a game-high 17 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 4 shots.
Sanni outplayed Walker in a matchup of two of the league's top post players, particularly on defense as she held Walker without a field goal.
"She got the best of me tonight, so now it is up to me to work hard to bounce back and I will," said Walker, who is still recovering from an ankle injury.
West Virginia also got a spark off the bench from former Oakland Catholic standout Meg Bulger, who is coming off a knee injury. She hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points in 26 minutes.
"It is always nice to beat Pitt because being from Pittsburgh I know how seriously they take sports there, but to be honest, I'm just glad to be healthy and out there playing with my teammates."
It was the ninth win in a row for the Mountaineers and it kept them in a second-place tie with No. 5 Rutgers (19-4, 9-1) a half-game behind No. 2 Connecticut (23-1, 10-1).
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.