PITTSBURGH -- North Carolina trailed Pittsburgh by 10 points at halftime Thursday night, yet coach Sylvia Hatchell still thought her team would be in good shape considering how well the Tar Heels have played in second halves of late.
They weathered an early run by the Panthers before cutting Pitt's lead to 11 with 7 minutes to play.
"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."
Pittsburgh finished the game on a 19-5 run and defeated the eighth-ranked Tar Heels 84-69. Brianna Kiesel led the way with 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Monica Wignot added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Stasha Carey scored 17 as the Panthers (11-4, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) 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.
The Panthers outrebounded the Tar Heels 54-42, a point of emphasis for Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio entering the game -- and a deciding factor in Hatchell's mind.
"Rebounding was really major," Hatchell said. "I was really upset we didn't rebound like we should have."
Hatchell also noted the absence of injured forward Xylina McDaniel -- an All-ACC selection and a member of the preseason Naismith Trophy Watch List -- and the impact she would've had on the Tar Heels' mentality.
"I just didn't think we played as hard as we needed to," Hatchell said. "Xylina would have made a difference there with that, I'm sure."
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, after squandering a chance to beat No. 7 Louisville on Sunday. The Panthers led for most of the game and held a two-point edge with 3 minutes to play before the Cardinals closed on an 8-0 run for a 63-57 victory.
"I was a little intense at halftime," McConnell-Serio 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 second half 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."
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.
- Joanne Aldrich
- Mark McClenney
- Denise Brooks