Pitt Basketball: Lady Panthers fall in opener

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Heading into an ACC tournament first-round game Wednesday night against Wake Forest, Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio was well aware of what Demon Deacon's forward Dearica Hamby was capable of doing against the Panthers' undersized defense.

Hamby, who had 32 points and 14 rebounds in the teams' regular-season meeting earlier this season, possesses a unique blend of size and touch that landed her a spot on the all-ACC team.

McConnell-Serio tried a wide array of defenses to stop Wake Forest's 6-foot-3 forward, but none worked well enough as Hamby finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, and Pitt's season came to an end with a 72-58 loss in its first ACC tournament game.

"We just had some breakdowns defensively. We tried to double-team Hamby at 6-3, but she's able to throw out of it and they're getting layups," McConnell-Serio said. "I think we just got frustrated on the floor. Our mistakes just started to build one after another."

The Panthers (11-20) recovered from a shaky start to tie the score, 24-24, on a Brianna Kiesel layup. They had shown some hope that they might be able to contain Hamby down low, but, then, as the defense started collapsing, Hamby kicked out to point guard Chelsea Douglas on back-to-back possessions for 3-pointers that kick-started a 10-0 Wake Forest run.

"That's what someone like Hamby does," McConnell-Serio said. "When you're expending energy focusing on where she is at all times, other players end up open. We just had some miscommunications, and [Douglas] hit two big 3s."

The Demon Deacons (15-15) extended their lead early in the second half with a 14-2 run, and the closest Pitt came was nine points the rest of the way. As has been the case for Pitt this season, when the defense began to struggle, McConnell-Serio said the Panthers lost their offensive focus and took some bad shots.

Playing in her final college game, senior forward Asia Logan led the Panthers with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

McConnell-Serio said fatigue started becoming an issue for the Panthers, who were playing with just eight players.

Restocking Pitt's depth will be of McConnell-Serio's main objectives as she continues to build the program. One of the desired results would be to have future trips to the ACC tournament last more than one day.

"It's having the depth that if fatigue becomes a factor, it's having someone to go to where you don't skip a beat," McConnell-Serio said. "It's having players that can come off your bench and contribute."

While this season ended the same way as the past two -- with a first-round conference tournament loss -- McConnell-Serio was adamant that the team that lost to Wake Forest Wednesday was vastly improved from the one she took over nearly a year ago. The Panthers made some tangible steps this year, most notably ending a 37-game conference losing streak that dated to 2011.

"We are [better] in a lot of ways," McConnell-Serio said. "In team chemistry, in leadership, in fight, in playing with passion."

One of those returning players, junior point guard Kiesel, said she was confident McConnell-Serio had the program heading in the right direction.

"She's a great coach," Kiesel said. "She brought the best out of all of us. We had three conference wins [this year] and, in the past two [years] I've played we had none. That's a step in the right direction."

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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