Panthers clamp down on Lady Griz in 64-35 win
SEATTLE (AP)—Shavonte Zellous could use some help from her teammates as Pittsburgh progresses in the NCAA tournament. In the first-round against Montana, Zellous by herself was more than enough.
Zellous scored 15 of her 31 points in the first half to keep Pitt even with energized and inspired Montana, and the superior talent of the fourth-seeded Panthers took over in the second half of a 64-35 win on Saturday night in the first-round of the Oklahoma City Regional.
Zellous carried Pitt in the first half and the Panthers defense did the rest. Pitt held 13th-seeded Montana to just 10 second-half points, tying the tournament record for fewest points allowed in a half. Connecticut gave up just 10 to Long Island in the second half of a first-round game in 2001.
“The first half I just kind of put the team on my shoulders and willed us to get through it and get to the second half,” said Zellous, who became Pitt’s all-time single-season scoring leader with her fifth 30-point game of the season.
While Pitt coach Agnus Berenato claims her team doesn’t have any stars, it’s clear they’d be lost without Zellous. As her teammates struggled with Montana’s plodding, methodical pace in the first half, Zellous kept knocking down contested shots in traffic, and rarely missed when she found herself open in space. She then took advantage of Montana’s countless mistakes in the second half as a one-point Pitt (24-7) lead at halftime turned into a comfortable rout.
Zellous scored six straight in barely 1 minute as part of the Panthers’ 13-2 run to open the second half that finally dimmed any upset hopes for the 13th-seeded Lady Griz. Zellous hit 13 of 27 shots and grabbed nine rebounds. Shayla Scott added 11 points, including a pair of 3-pointers during Pitt’s decisive charge to start the second half.
The undersized and less athletic Lady Griz did their best to negate the Panthers superior talent in the first half. They handled Pitt’s trapping pressure defense in the early going and milked the shot clock on nearly every possession. But when the shots stopped falling, the Lady Griz quickly found themselves looking up at a huge deficit and getting worn down by the intensity of every possession against Pitt’s aggressive defense.
“Whenever you’re running into a trap and you see the look on their face of ‘what am I supposed to do now?’ it makes you feel good,” Scott said. “Defensively we just wanted to keep taking the ball from them.”
Mandy Morales led Montana (28-5) with 11 points and eight assists, but her entire team struggled in the second half. Morales scored with 18:33 left in the second half to keep Montana within 28-27, but the Lady Griz missed their next eight shots and added seven turnovers to a 10-minute scoreless drought that was finally broken on Britney Lohman’s free throw with 8:20 left. By then, Montana was in a 49-28 hole and the 2,000 or so Lady Griz fans that made the eight-hour trek from Missoula to Seattle were left without much of a growl.
Montana didn’t score another field goal until Jessa Loman Linford’s turnaround in the lane with 4:30 left, but Montana was just 4 of 22 shooting in the second half.
“It didn’t appear that anything had changed, I think our composure just faltered a little bit,” Lohman said. “Other than that, it was the same press as the first half and we were just struggling with it a little more, not being as patient as we had been in the first half.”
The Lady Griz were trying for their first tournament win since beating San Diego State in the first round of the 1995 tourney as a No. 12 seed. Montana, which won its 21st Big Sky regular season title this season, has now dropped its last eight tourney games.