For a team trying to become competitive under first-year coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, it would be hard to find a tougher two-week stretch than the one the Pitt women’s basketball team just faced.
It started with a visit from old Big East Conference rival Notre Dame in the teams’ first meeting as ACC foes. That one ended with a 109-66 win for the No. 2 Fighting Irish.
That was followed by an 11-point home loss against Syracuse. The latest blow came Sunday, when the Panthers lost at No. 3 Duke, 111-67.
“I think you realize where you want to be and what we need to do to get better,” McConnell-Serio said. “Obviously we have to work harder to compete at that level.”
The schedule eases up starting tonight, when Boston College (11-10, 2-5) visits Petersen Events Center. The Eagles have struggled in ACC play and lost back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Duke earlier this month.
“When you watch these teams, they’re in a similar situation [to where] we are,” McConnell-Serio said. “They’re just working hard to get a win. They’re still very talented. On any given night you have to be ready to play.”
One of Pitt’s biggest problems against Duke was defending the interior — the Blue Devils had 50 points in the paint. That could be an issue again, as 6-foot-3 Eagles forward Katie Zenevitch is taller than any player on Pitt’s roster.
Pitt will get a boost from the return of forward Chyna Golden, who missed the Duke game because of a death in the family. She is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in conference.
“We’re so undersized right now, so when we go against a team like [Duke], it’s very difficult,” McConnell-Serio said.
Offensively, McConnell-Serio said the Panthers (9-11, 1-5) need to improve their perimeter shooting — they rank last in the ACC, shooting 38.5 percent. She is surprised how much zone defense the Panthers have seen in the ACC, and she expects more of it tonight from Boston College.
“For our players right now, it’s about getting in the gym and spending extra time shooting the basketball, because teams are daring us to beat them from the perimeter,” she said, adding that Pitt’s “margin for error is slim.”
After the Eagles, the next three home games are against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, teams in the bottom half of the league standings.
“These are games that can build up our confidence,” guard Brianna Kiesel said. “We’ve been losing a couple. We had two big loss to the No. 2 and 3 teams in the nation, so we’re coming in playing these teams that are kind of in the middle of the pack where we want to be.”
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.