Women's Hoops Riding High into Steel City

Riding high off their 74-61 victory over the Providence Friars last Tuesday, the University of Cincinnati went into their preparation for Pitt (19-5, 7-4 Big East) excited to knock off one of the hottest teams in the country. Special Audio File for Premium members.

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Coach Pirtle:

The victory for the Bearcats put an end to a three-game losing streak and a stint of seven loses in their past nine games, which dropped their record to a humbling 13-10 (4-7 Big East) mark for the year.  It also helped in the creation an aura of modest confidence surrounding the team as they head into the Steel City for the Tuesday night showdown. 


However, the question must be asked if the 'Cats have been able to prolong the energy-uplifting benefits of their victory now seven days after the fact.  The extended layoff, which is tied for the longest stint of inactivity of the season (Tennessee Tech (W) to no. 23 Arkansas (L); Dec. 21-28) for UC, may have tapered much of the momentum the Bearcats established after their most recent one-sided win.  In addition, some might ask if Cincinnati may have had a little too much time to ready themselves for their opponent who could find themselves among the list of six teams on the ‘Cats schedule this season (1-5).  What I have come to understand, however, is that UC staff has sought to diminish the likelihood of this over preparation by only focusing on Pitt for two of the seven days.


While long-time head coach Laurie Pirtle seems to believe that her team is still quite energized for the contest given the momentum they built in their last on-court showing, their is at least one more question that has to be asked of  her program.  This query concerns whether or not there will be enough vigor in their collective step left as UC squares off against yet another nationally recognized program.  Though the Panthers are only receiving votes in each of the national polls, one cannot underplay how good this squad has become.  Pitt has knocked off each of its last four opponents.  While two of the victories came over squads that have struggled mightily this season, Villanova and the previously mentioned Friars, the Panthers did come a way with wins against Notre Dame and a crucial result over a veteran-led USF squad, who had been one of the most successful clubs in the nation as of late.  The Panthers' win snapped South Florida's five game winnings streak, giving the vote-receiving squad their first back-to-back losses since last season, and grants Pitt the tiebreaker for fourth place in a hotly contended Big East. 


Cincinnati, who has seen their ranking drop to 11th in the conference, will hope that the fact Pitt will have played three games in the previous 10 days will have an impact on the team's play - especially given the fact the Bearcats are an up-tempo style of team.  However, the bruising team from Western Pennsylvania has been very successful in dominating opposing teams in the half-court game this season, not allowing team's to dictate the style of play and their deep rotation will keep them relatively fresh.  Pitt is led by do-it-all scoring ace Shavonte Zellous, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who is averaging 20 points and over six rebounds at the two guard spot. However, the Panthers also rely heavily on double-double machine Mercedes Walker, whose strong play has seen her net 15 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, helping her claim her improve her total to 30 career double-double, and Xenia Stewart (11.8 ppg), who is coming off a 21-point showing her last time out,  to pace the team's offensive efforts.  This three-player group comprises the majority of the Panthers offense, leaving the rest of the squad to do the "other things" that make teams well-rounded and successful ball clubs, something Pitt has undeniably been as of late. While they feature the ability to score from the perimeter, the majority of their play comes from inside the arc.  On the season, Pitt has only been successful on 49 3-point attempts, good for just over two makes per contest.  The Panthers use their guards to both dump the ball down low or streak into the lane, leaving post players open as defenses try to slide over to defend a corp of large Panthers post players.  Of the nine players that have played for Pitt this season, all of which see about nine minutes per outing, only two of them are under 5-foot-11.  The team also features three players over 6-foot-3, two of which are in the starting lineup, which gives the Panthers a sizeable height advantage over the ‘Cats, as well as most teams they play.


Want to know what the Bearcats are thinking going into their match-up with the Panthers? Take a listen to head coach Laurie Pirtle give BCI some exclusive insight into Tuesday night's game.

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