The Pitt women's basketball team was tentative for the first half of yesterday's game against Cincinnati. As a result, the Panthers led by only two points against the depleted Bearcats, who haven't won in more than a month.
But tentative is not a style that suits the 19th-ranked Panthers. In the second half they came out and took a more aggressive approach on both ends of the court.
Once it was clear the Bearcats couldn't match Pitt's intensity, the Panthers were able to blow open the Big East Conference contest.
The Panthers cruised to a 68-53 victory against the Bearcats before 6,443 at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt used a 14-0 run early in the second half, fueled mostly by aggressive rebounding and Cincinnati turnovers, to take control of the game. Shayla Scott converted a three-point play and made two free throws in the outburst.
It was an important victory for the Panthers (20-5, 10-3 Big East) because it clinched their fourth 20-win season. The Bearcats (13-13, 3-10) lost for the ninth consecutive game.
Pitt's physical dominance against the Bearcats, who have only eight players available due to injury and attrition, was evident in a number of ways, most notably Pitt won the rebounding battle, 43-26. The Panthers grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, turned them into 21 second-chance points and limited the Bearcats to only three second-chance points.
"I thought we controlled the pace in the first half and we did a good job of getting them to settle for shots from the perimeter," Cincinnati coach J. Kelley Hall said.
"But in the second half, they did a great job of getting the ball down low as well and they attacked the basket and made us either try and stop them or foul them."
Pitt coach Agnus Berenato sensed a change in the game in the second half. It was one she expected since she challenged her players to play with more intensity in the second half and to stop settling for jump shots.
She said she didn't change the Panthers' game plan or their approach. The only thing that changed was her team played the kind of physical, aggressive basketball it is capable of playing.
"In the first half, we had 11 offensive rebounds -- we only got two points out of it though," Berenato said. "I told them, we're not doing a good enough job of making those rebounds pay off. I mean, we work so hard to get a rebound, we need to get the reward of a basket, too. I also told them we needed to get our transition game going."
Yesterday was also the third annual "Pink the Petersen" event, an event dedicated to breast cancer awareness. Fans were encouraged to wear pink and $1 from every ticket sold was donated to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation.
"It was emotional for me, but it has been more than a year and I've done a good job separating things," said Pitt guard Sophronia Sallard when asked about her emotions given that her mother died of breast cancer in 2007. "I just try to remember her words when she said to me 'You better go there and do something this year,' and she was serious, so really that's what I was thinking about when I went out on the court."
Shavonte Zellous led the Panthers with 16 points and six rebounds. Teammate Xenia Stewart added 16 points and had three assists.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720