Women's College Basketball
Rider University 65, University of Pittsburgh 48
PITTSBURGH, Pa.--That's why you play the game.
On paper, the game looked like a mismatch, Big East against the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. What it became is a signature win for the Rider Broncs.
Led by 20 points from senior Sironda Chambers (Wilmington, Del.), the Rider University women's basketball team went into Pittsburgh and defeated the Pitt Panthers in a non-conference game Sunday afternoon.
"Words can't express how proud we are of the team," said head coach Lynn Milligan. "Any road win is a big win. Finals week is hard and the players got into the gym and focused on working to improve. We got better this week and were rewarded for that."
"We played well," said Chambers who notched her third 20-plus point effort in the last five games. "We stuck to the game plan and played 'Rider basketball' for all 40 minutes."
Chambers shot 7-15, including 3-4 from three-point range and added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in 32 minutes of play.
Trailing 37-36, Rider (5-4) went on a 7-2 run, three points by junior MyNeshia McKenzie (Springfield, Pa./Springfield (Delco)) as the Broncs retook the lead 43-39 with 9:58 left in the game, the fifth and final lead change of the contest.
McKenzie had eight points, eight rebounds and a block in 37 minutes of play.
Two free throws by Chambers and a layup and two free throws by senior Caitlin Bopp (Baltimore, Md./Inst. of Notre Dame) gave Rider a 53-43 lead with 6:19 left.
"Sironda just had a keen awareness of when we need her to step up and make a big play," Milligan said. "We needed her at the end of the game to make good decisions and break the press but more importantly, keep everyone calm and she did that, especially in the second half."
"We stepped up our defensive pressure in the second half," Chambers added. "That's what really got us the win."
Rider held Pitt to no field goals and only five free throws over the final 8:58 of the game.
Bopp. the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Week last week, was limited to 21 minutes after picking up two fouls in the opening two minutes of the game but finished with seven points and 13 rebounds.
"Caitlin made huge second half baskets," Milligan said. "She came up big and knocked those shots down."
Bopp is now fourth on Rider's all-time rebound list with 741.
Pittsburgh (6-4) opened with a 7-0 run in the first 2:54 of the game and the Panthers held Rider (4-5) to 0-9 shooting until Chambers hit a field goal just over four minutes into the contest.
"We just needed to make a shot," Chambers said about the early offensive struggles. "We just needed to put the ball in the hole and once we scored, we got that energy."
"We weren't down early because we were turning the ball over," Milligan said. "We had some wide open looks and just missed them. Pitt got some transition baskets but we knew going into the first timeout that we got the looks that we wanted and just didn't make them. We needed to stay the course and lock them up on the defensive end."
Trailing 10-2, sophomore Kornelija Valiuskyte (Siauliai, Lithuania/The Rock School) converted a three-point play, sparking a 7-0 run as Rider got to within 10-9 with 9:54 left in the opening half.
Valiuskyte finished with those three points but added three assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block in 29 minutes.
"Kornelija had a great floor game," Milligan said. "She is really stepping up and playing with more confidence."
After the Panthers responded with two baskets, Chambers hit a three-pointer, bringing the Broncs to within 14-12 with 7:38 left in the first period.
Trailing 17-12, Rider went on a 8-0 run, including a three-pointer by Chambers and a three-point play by grad student Carleigh Brown (Philadelphia, Pa./Nazareth Academy) (off a forced turnover and assist from freshman Mikal Johnson (Manassas, Va./Osbourn)) as the Broncs went ahead 20-17 with 1:48 left in the first half.
C. Brown had five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench with Johnson adding six points, two rebounds, an assist and a block in 18 minutes.
Rider led 24-22 at intermission.
Pitt tied the game at 24 before Johnson made three free throws, putting Rider in the lead 27-24 with 18:55 left in the game.
Johnson was three for three from the free throw line and Rider was 17-22 from the charity stripe.
"Mikal was huge again with her free throws," Milligan added. "We have tremendous depth and that showed again today. We got contributions from a lot of different places."
The Panthers responded with a 5-0 run before Johnson hit a three-pointer as part of a Rider 5-0 run as the Broncs went back in the lead 32-29, 3:16 into the second half.
Trailing 36-33, Pitt went on a 4-0 run, taking a 37-36 lead with 14:00 left in the game.
Also for the Broncs, senior Dior Brown (Upper Darby, Pa./Upper Darby) had eight points, two rebounds, a block and a steal in 17 minutes.
Rider shot 37 percent from the field and held the Panthers to 27 percent, including 1-9 from three-point range.
The Broncs held a 43-42 rebounding advantage.
Rider forced 17 turnovers by Pitt and the Broncs only turned the ball over 12 times for the second game in a row.
This is the 14th time under Milligan that Rider has held an opponent under 50 points. "Our defensive effort really sparked the offense," Chambers said. "Holding a team under 50 points is great."
This was the first meeting in women's basketball between Rider and Pittsburgh. The Panthers are coached by Rider Athletics Hall of Famer Agnus McGlade-Berenato. Also a former head coach at Georgia Tech., Berenato compiled 128 wins in four years at Rider, 60 on the basketball court and 68 on the volleyball court. She led the 1981-82 Rider basketball team to a 26-7 record as the Broncs reached the Eastern AIAW Division II championship game. Her 1982 volleyball squad was 20-8 and her 1983 squad went 27-10.
The Broncs have won two straight and four of their last five games.
Rider travels to Central Connecticut State University for a non-conference game at 6pm on Friday evening.
"Another tough road game," Milligan said about CCSU. "They are an outstanding ball club and play a real up and down style. Friday will be another big challenge for us."
Big challenges. That's why you play the game.