KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Pittsburgh, which was expected to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Panthers, picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC in the preseason poll, continued their surprising season Saturday with a 51-40 victory over Chattanooga in first round of the NCAAs.
The Panthers, the No. 10 seed in the Spokane Region, will play No. 2 seed Tennessee on Monday.
“What a special moment,” Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “The enthusiasm, the energy in the locker room, it’s just why you coach every single day, seeing your players with the smiles on their faces and the reaction to getting a win like this — a signature win.”
Stasha Carey scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds as Pittsburgh (20-11) snapped Chattanooga’s 25-game winning streak. The seventh-seeded Mocs (29-4) fell for the first time since a 57-52 loss at Arkansas State on Dec. 1.
During the regular season, the Mocs beat Tennessee and Stanford when both were ranked in the top 10.
But they were no match for Pittsburgh, which ended a string of four straight losing seasons.
“We could be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Coach would go in and say we could win,” said Pittsburgh guard Brianna Kiesel, who had 13 points and four assists. “She just gives us that type of confidence, and we feed off of her.”
Chattanooga shot a season-low 26.2 percent and continued a familiar postseason pattern.
Last year, the Mocs also had won 25 straight games before losing to Syracuse in the opening round. Chattanooga has eight straight NCAA Tournament losses since beating Rutgers in a 2004 first-round game.
Chattanooga upgraded its schedule this season in an attempt to be more prepared for whatever the Mocs might encounter in the tournament, but they fell behind 11-2 in the opening minutes and never led. Chattanooga had no answers for Carey, a 6-foot-2 freshman who outmuscled the Mocs.
“Most definitely, she was more physical than me,” said Jasmine Joyner, who led Chattanooga with 10 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.
“If she didn’t score the basket, she found a way for me to foul her so she could get easy free throws.”
The Mocs tied the score on two Alicia Payne free throws with 12:05 left, but they went cold the rest of the game as Pittsburgh reeled off nine straight points to pull ahead for good.
Chattanooga went nearly seven minutes without a basket during one stretch in the second half against a Pittsburgh team that entered the NCAA Tournament ranked second in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (.362).
“Our defense is our main point of the game,” Carey said. “It’s where we’re strongest.”
Pittsburgh: Kiesel is the first player in Pittsburgh history to have 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists.
Chattanooga: The Mocs’ No. 7 seed was their best in school history. Their previous best was a No. 10 seed in 2004. … Chelsey Shumpert entered the tournament with 11.9 points per game to rank second on the team, but she went scoreless Saturday while shooting 0 of 6 overall and 0 of 4 from 3-point range.
Carey, a freshman, was playing her first NCAA Tournament game Saturday, but she showed the poise of an upperclassman until she got into the interview room.
That’s when she finally showed some freshman jitters while trying to answer questions.
“I’m bad at this,” Carey said as she finished answering one question.
“You’d better get used to it,” McConnell-Serio replied.
Chattanooga continues to struggle translating its regular-season success over to the NCAA Tournament. Chattanooga coach Jim Foster already had a message ready for his players on how they could learn from this latest postseason setback as they head into the offseason.
“Work hard,” Foster said. “Get better. We have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there who got some experience. Get in the weight room. Get stronger. Understand the commitment that’s necessary to be successful at (this) level. Getting there is one thing. Winning is another.”
Pittsburgh plays either No. 2 seed Tennessee or No. 15 seed Boise State on Monday at Knoxville.
Chattanooga will head into next season needing to replace only two seniors from this season’s normal playing rotation — Ka’Vonne Towns and Destiny Bramblett.
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