Junior point guard Brianna Kiesel is Pitt’s lone returning all-conference player so it isn’t surprising that first-year coach Suzie McConnell-Serio is going to lean on her as she begins to rebuild the women’s basketball program.
Kiesel showed Friday that she is up to the task, scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 4 assists to lead the Panthers to a 66-51 win against Bucknell before a crowd of 4,698 at the Petersen Events Center in the season opener.
It was the first time the Panthers won their home opener since 2010-11, and the first time in 55 games they led from start to finish.
It was the first win for McConnell-Serio as Pitt’s coach, but she said the credit goes to the players, who worked hard in the offseason and preseason.
The coach said Kiesel is a special player who has the natural ability of a leader. McConnell-Serio hopes the junior guard’s energy and work ethic will continue to be a positive influence on the team.
“Brianna is the glue to this team right now,” she said. “I have been impressed with how she has been able to transfer things from practice into the games in terms of the leadership, her presence on the floor and her and I always being on the same page about what we are running and what we need to do in certain situations.
“She plays with such a focus, and it is something that needs to be contagious across the entire team if we are going to improve and become the kind of team we want to be.”
Kiesel said she is excited to play in McConnell-Serio’s more up-tempo offense which increases possessions and, presumably, points, but she was most impressed with the way the Panthers played defense.
Bucknell shot 29.7 percent (22 of 74) from the floor, and Pitt forced 21 turnovers. That is something Kiesel believes will have to be a staple for the Panthers if they are going to win more games.
“Our plays worked, we got a lot of transition points,” she said. “Because we played good help defense it allowed me to get a lot of steals, leading to break-away points, and those transition buckets really helped us.”
Kiesel drove the Panthers and had help from two other key veterans, forward Asia Logan (15 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Loliya Briggs (15 points, 5 rebounds). Those three combined for 50 of the 66 points.
While that is probably indicative of how things are going to be early in the season, McConnell-Serio said she hopes more players will get involved as the season progresses.
“Honestly I thought the minutes would’ve been more balanced,” McConnell-Serio said. “I don’t think it’s the expectation of this staff to have to play Brianna Kiesel 36 minutes. We are looking for players to step in, give her a breather and rotate with players coming off the bench. Obviously, today she was a difference-maker handling the basketball, defending and rebounding.
“I couldn’t take her off the floor.”
Pitt was a bit short-handed as Marquel Davis and 6-foot-11 Bubbles Anderson were hurt. Anderson’s absence was one reason the Panthers were beaten on the boards, 59-38, including 24-8 on the offensive glass.
McConnell-Serio said the rebounding numbers, regardless of who was available, are unacceptable.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.