Panthers have little to lose vs. Irish

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With four common opponents, Pitt women’s basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio has had plenty of tape to study on Notre Dame the past week.

Is there anything in those hours of film that might contain a hint for how Pitt can slow down the Irish?

“I’m still searching for that,” McConnell-Serio said.

The Panthers (9-8, 1-2) tonight will welcome undefeated No. 2 Notre Dame (15-0, 3-0) to Petersen Events Center for an ACC clash, and McConnell-Serio knows her team has a tall task ahead of it. The Panthers finally broke their 37-game regular-season conference losing streak Jan. 5 at Virginia and Sunday played Clemson close on the road in a 77-67 loss, but Notre Dame — a program that has made three consecutive Final Fours — is a different beast.

“This [Notre Dame] team, there’s just something about them so that they work so well together at both ends of the floor,” McConnell-Serio said. “They communicate, they just do a lot of great things. One thing we’ve talked about is we have to play a great game to compete with them. To even give ourselves any sort of chance of being in the game late in the game, we have to play a great game at both ends of the floor.”

Specifically, McConnell-Serio pointed to Notre Dame’s “Big Three” of Erie native and Villa Maria Academy graduate Kayla McBride, Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa, who collectively average 46.6 points and 20.9 rebounds per game.

“They play those three players, but those three make the game easier for everyone else,” McConnell-Serio said. “They get them open shots.”

The Irish also defend well, and McConnell-Serio pointed to offensive struggles as a big reason the Panthers lost at Clemson.

“There was a lot of frustration [against Clemson] and it was just a domino effect,” McConnell-Serio said.

The offense for Pitt will start with point guard Brianna Kiesel, who is tied for first in the ACC with 22.3 points per game in league play. Her teammate Loliya Briggs ranks second on the team with 14 points per game against ACC opponents.

If the Panthers need a spark of inspiration to pull the upset, they can look at the Virginia team they defeated just two weeks ago. Playing host to Notre Dame this past weekend, Virginia gave the Irish their biggest scare of the season, losing by only seven points.

“We have absolutely no pressure,” Kiesel said. “The pressure’s all on them. We just go out there, do what we can, do what we do best, maintain our composure and just go out and play hard.”

Sam Werner: and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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