Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa blocks a shot by Pitt's Brianna Kiesel in the first half Thursday night at the Petersen Events Center.
By Sam Werner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Earlier this week, Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said the game Thursday night against Notre Dame would offer the Panthers a chance to "close the gap" between them and elite programs like the No. 2 Irish.
If that game is any indication, that gap is still quite large.
The Panthers lost to Notre Dame, 109-66, at Petersen Events Center. The Irish led by 29 at halftime and didn't look back.
"You hope a team is not as good as they are on film, and this team was even better tonight than I even watched on film," McConnell-Serio said.
The Irish didn't waste any time as guard Kayla McBride, an Erie native, took control off the opening tipoff and raced down the court for a layup seconds into the game.
Pitt battled early, and the teams were tied at six a minute in before the Irish ripped off a 12-0 run. That stretch, combined with a 9-0 run later in the first half, helped Notre Dame put the game out of reach early.
"As well as they played, [I'm] disappointed we didn't come out and compete with a little more intensity and aggressiveness to start the game," McConnell-Serio said. "Some of the things that we could have done defensively, offensively, we didn't do them well."
Notre Dame shot 61 percent from the field and made its offense look nearly effortless with crisp passes and open looks. The Irish turned the ball over nine times all night.
The Irish dominated Pitt down low, too, outscoring the Panthers, 46-18, inside.
"They put on a clinic," McConnell-Serio said. "There's no doubt about it. They put on a clinic."
McBride finished with 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting. Mt. Lebanon native Madison Cable added nine points and six rebounds for Notre Dame off the bench.
Pitt, meanwhile, struggled to develop any sense of offensive momentum. The Panthers shot 37 percent from the floor and had 18 turnovers that led to 27 Notre Dame points.
The bright spot for the Panthers offensively was point guard Brianna Kiesel, who finished with 20 points despite constant defensive attention.
After the game, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw called Kiesel "one of the best point guards in the league."
"She's a special player, in my mind," McConnell-Serio said. "They [were] trying to make her earn everything she got."
Kiesel went down with a knee injury midway through the second half, and McConnell-Serio wasn't sure if she would recover in time for Pitt's game against Syracuse Sunday.
Over the next two days, McConnell-Serio and the Panthers will try to put the result of this game behind them, but also take away some lessons from playing the No. 2-ranked team.
"Our goal each year will be to close the gap against a team that is this talented," McConnell-Serio said. "We're not there yet -- we're not even close -- but, hopefully, our players will learn from this and know that that's why we put the time in the offseason to get better so that we can compete with these teams."
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published January 16, 2014 8:54 PM
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