ST. THOMAS — Pittsburgh’s women’s college basketball team wasn’t highly regarded in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s preseason predictions.
That’s a perception the Panthers would like to change, and some wins in the Paradise Jam tournament might be a step in the right direction.
Pittsburgh won its first game in the Reef Division on Friday night, holding off a second-half rally by Northwestern for a 72-60 victory at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.
Liatu King had a double-double with a career-high 23 points and 19 rebounds for the Panthers (5-1), who bounced back from Thursday’s 57-46 loss to No. 23 Texas A&M. Rita Igbokwe and Sandrine Clesca added nine points each.
That was enough to hand the Huskies (4-2) their first loss of the tournament, despite having three players finish in double figures.
Jillian Brown led Northwestern with 14 points, with Veronica Burton and Courtney Shaw adding 12 points each.
Pittsburgh led 31-24 at the half, but Northwestern mounted a comeback beginning in the third quarter. The Huskies pulled within a point three times in the first four minutes, the last at 36-35 on Paige Mott’s layup with 6 minutes, 9 seconds remaining.
After staying within two points after that, the Panthers went on an 8-1 run over the next two minutes to get some separation, leading 51-41 with 47 seconds left on two free throws by Emy Hayford. Pittsburgh would go on to lead 51-44 at the end of the quarter.
Northwestern would get no closer than six points early in the fourth quarter, while the Panthers would build their lead to as many as 13 points, going up 72-59 on two free throws by King with 45 seconds remaining.
Liatu King, Pittsburgh: The 6-foot sophomore also tied her career best in rebounding, and provided the force the Panthers needed to get past Northwestern. She made 7 of 13 shots and 9 of 12 free throws before fouling out late with the game well in hand.
Jillian Brown, Northwestern: The 5-10 freshman was one of three key scorers for the Huskies, but was their only long-range threat. She made 5 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 8 on 3-pointers, and a perfect 5 for 5 on free throws.
• After struggling in its last two games, Pittsburgh finally found its shot against Northwestern. The Panthers made 20 of 49 from the field (40.8%), including 3 for 8 on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Huskies made a season-worst 33.8% of their shots, going 22 of 65.
• A big problem Northwestern ran into was making 3-pointers. After averaging 33.7% from deep over their first five games, the Huskies made just 4 of 21 (19%) against Pitt. Other than Brown, the rest of Northwestern’s lineup hit just 1 for 13.
• Led by King, Pittsburgh dominated the inside, finishing with a season-best 72 rebounds while holding the Huskies to a season-low 30 boards. The difference was especially noticeable on offensive rebounds, with the Panthers’ 20 boards leading to 20 second-chance points.
Pittsburgh closes out Paradise Jam today against South Dakota in the 6:45 p.m. game; meanwhile, Northwestern faces Texas A&M in the nightcap at 9 p.m. today.