Schedule does Pitt women's basketball a favor at last

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Pitt women’s basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio is a realist.

She knows that, in Pitt’s first year in the ACC and with a team in a significant rebuilding phase, chances for league wins are not abundant.

Fortunately for the Panthers (10-15, 2-9 ACC), their next two games present two such opportunities as Clemson (11-15, 3-9) and Virginia Tech (11-13, 1-10) are two of the teams clumped around the Panthers at the bottom of the league standings.

“You look at this next week, we have an incredible opportunity,” McConnell-Serio said. “These are teams at the bottom with us. Obviously, we have an incredible opportunity to earn some wins, at least compete.”

It starts today with the Tigers at Petersen Events Center, a game in which Pitt will try to avenge a 77-67 road loss last month.

The Panthers also will be looking to win their first game in February, a month which has been unkind to them in several ways. Pitt was blown out by elite competition against Maryland and North Carolina, but the Panthers also lost a heartbreaker along the way.

Playing without its best player, Brianna Kiesel, Pitt built a 17-point halftime lead, then blew it in a 74-70 loss.

While the ultimate result was disappointing, McConnell-Serio might have learned something about her other players from the way they performed without Kiesel, who had suffered a concussion in the previous game.

Against the Demon Deacons, Loliya Briggs scored a career-high 28 points and Marquel Davis added a season-high 22.

“Seeing what we looked like in the Wake Forest game when [Kiesel]’s not on the floor, I think players tend to step up,” McConnell-Serio said. “I think when Bri is on the floor, they defer to her.”

That’s not to say Kiesel, who averages 16.6 points per game, is fine now and will play today, is in danger of disappearing from the lineup. She is too valuable for that, especially on a team with depth concerns..

Plus, McConnell-Serio said she never had seen a player more eager to get back than Kiesel.

“That was the first game she’s ever missed,” McConnell-Serio said.

“She wants to be in the gym. This is at the point in the season where I’ve tried limiting her in practice and she’s here before and after. She’s so motivated, she’s so hungry to be successful and to do whatever it takes to make this team win.”

Sam Werner: and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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