In the Lady Panthers' 61-35 win against North Florida in a Tuesday morning matchup at the Petersen Events Center, Berenato's Pittsburgh team accomplished two-thirds of her plan.
Sure, junior forward Chelsea Cole scored 14 points, while classmates Taneisha Harrison and Shayla Scott tallied 11 points each, but it was Pitt's stifling defense and physical play at both ends that made the difference against the Jacksonville, Fla.-based school. Offensively, the Panthers can do better.
"We just seemed very slow in the beginning, (but) our press was excellent,'' Berenato said. "We forced 18 turnovers, but I really wasn't happy with the conversion off of those turnovers. In the second half, we definitely picked it up. We picked up the intensity, and we picked up the pace.
"That's the type of team that I'd like Pitt to be. We want to run our break, and take the outside shot when we have it and go inside when we have it. So, we can play inside-outside. We saw a little bit of all three of those things in the second half. Chelsea did a good job inside, and Shay stuck with her shot.''
Pitt (1-0) gave up an early North Florida (0-2) score, but clamped down defensively after that as the Panthers used a 12-0 run to take an early lead that they never relinquished. Pitt took a 25-13 advantage into the locker room at halftime even though it shot just 37.5 percent from the field.
The defense, however, was impressive throughout, as the Panthers held the Ospreys to just 29.8 percent (14-for-47) shooting and outrebounded them 44-27 after leading by just three (18-15) at the half. Pitt also forced North Florida into 27 turnovers for the game and didn't allow a single player to score in double-figures. Jadhken Kerr led UNF with nine points.
Things picked up considerably for Pitt's offense in the second half, and the Panthers finished strong as well by shooting 51.9 percent in the final 20 minutes. Scott (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) connected on a layup on Pitt's first possession and hit two 3-pointers just one minute apart to add to the lead.
Cole (Lumberton, N.J./Rancocas Valley) was 6-for-8 shooting and added seven rebounds. She also tallied an assist, a blocked shot and a steal in 24 minutes. Pitt redshirt junior point guard Jania Sims (Newark, N.J./Shabazz) led all players with seven assists, while sophomore center Kate Popovec (Canfield, Ohio/Canfield) led all players with nine rebounds.
"I think our defense helps create our offense,'' Scott said. "It really makes our offense flow easier. (And) it all goes back to our workouts over the summer and playing pickup games together every day.
"Getting used to one another is something that will come along very soon. It has to. We need to develop this throughout practice with patience, but we don't want to be too patient. We want to get there and keep improving.''
It was a School Day promotion for Pitt, which aimed at bringing in students from several schools and districts around the City of Pittsburgh to watch the game. The promotion attracted nearly 4,300 fans, primarily screaming, young girls.
"This was a double-win for us,'' Berenato said. "It was a win on the court, making us 1-0, and as far as the School Day promotion, it was a good display of athletics and academics. That's what we're all about here at Pitt.''
Pitt continues games against Southern teams with a matchup against the University of Florida Friday at 7 p.m. There will be a pregame ceremony to honor last season's team and raise a second NCAA Sweet Sixteen banner in as many years for the Panthers.
Pitt Women 61, North Florida 35
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