Kiesel leads Pittsburgh women to 84-59 win over No. 8 UNC
PITTSBURGH (AP) Brianna Kiesel has been through some of the leanest times in the history of Pittsburgh women's basketball. The Panthers lost 63 games in her first three seasons and went 3-41 in conference play during that time.
More disappointment came her way Sunday when she was called for a traveling violation with Pitt tied against No. 7 Louisville and 30 seconds to play. The Panthers ultimately lost.
As a player who's endured so much losing at Pitt, she was down and her coach, Suzie McConnell-Serio, was a little worried.
''She's hardest on herself,'' McConnell-Serio said. ''When she makes a mistake she gets down and that's the biggest thing, is keeping her focused and staying positive with her. But she responds.''
Kiesel and the rest of the Panthers responded Thursday night by trouncing No. 8 North Carolina 84-59 behind 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists from their senior leader.
''She's amazing,'' McConnell-Serio said. ''I'm so happy for her because she really has endured a lot in her time here but is really enjoying her senior season.''
Kiesel's play also impressed North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell.
''She hardly ever came out of the game and she was tough on offense and defense,'' Hatchell said.
Monica Wignot added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Stasha Carey scored 17 for the Panthers (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) as they beat a ranked opponent for the first time in nearly four years.
Allisha Gray led North Carolina (14-2, 1-1) with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Stephanie Mavunga, the reigning conference player of the week, scored 12.
Pittsburgh took the lead 5 minutes into the game on Wignot's 3-pointer and never trailed again.
The Panthers led 27-26 before ending the first half on a 13-4 run that gave them a 40-30 lead at the break. Kiesel hit a step-back jumper as the shot clock expired with seconds left in the half to give Pitt the double-digit lead.
At halftime, McConnell-Serio wanted to ensure her team wouldn't falter again.
''I was a little intense at halftime,'' she said. ''I was challenging them knowing what North Carolina is capable of doing and how they would come up and how Coach Hatchell would challenge them.''
McConnell-Serio was right. Hatchell said her team discussed adjustments, particularly on the boards. And with the way her team had played lately, she was confident the Tar Heels would put together a strong second half.
But the Panthers opened the period on a 14-4 run and extended their lead to 24 points.
''We didn't come out and do it like we've been doing,'' Hatchell said. ''We knew what we needed to do.''
North Carolina responded with a 17-4 spurt that cut the Tar Heels' deficit to 11 with less than seven minutes to play, but they came no closer as the Panthers pushed the margin back up to 25 in the final minutes and finished the game on a 19-5 run.
''I thought once we got it to 11, we're going to make a run here and pull this out,'' Hatchell said. ''We got a couple fouls and things didn't work our way.''
After nearly beating Louisville, this past week of basketball could be seen as a turning point for a rebuilding Pitt program.
''I feel like a lot of people know Pitt women's basketball as the `old' Pitt women's basketball,'' Wignot said. ''So I think it's exciting that people kind of see us as the underdog all the time just so we can just come in and not have any pressure on us and just play basketball and do what we're good at.''
McConnell-Serio added that the lack of expectations for her team in the powerful ACC has helped the Panthers play well against quality opponents.
''We were picked last,'' she said. ''We had no pressure. There were no expectations out there that we were going to beat anyone except for the expectation that we have in our locker room.''
North Carolina: The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Tar Heels.
Pittsburgh: The victory matched Pittsburgh's win over No. 8 Maryland on Dec. 7, 2008, for the highest-ranked opponent the Panthers have ever beaten. It was also their first victory over a ranked team since beating No. 14 West Virginia on Feb. 5, 2011.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
McConnell-Serio on her players' collective mentality against the nation's top teams: ''The one thing I said about these players is they're fearless. We respect everyone but they're not afraid of anyone.''
North Carolina hosts Georgia Tech on Sunday.
Pittsburgh plays at Florida State next Thursday.