By Pete Mollica
Former Canfield standout Kate Popovec led Pitt to an 89-37 win.
YOUNGSTOWN — It’s questionable whether a full-strength Youngstown State women’s basketball team would have been a good match for No. 19-ranked Pittsburgh, but the injury riddled, seven-player roster of the Penguins was no match at all here Wednesday night.
Sparked by a season-high performance from former Canfield High standout Kate Popovec, Pitt (7-0) rolled easily past the Penguins 89-37 before 1,300 fans at Beeghly Center.
Popovec, a 6-3 sophomore, made her first start of the year for the Panthers and turned in a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while the Panthers put six players in double figures and led the Penguins from start to finish.
“They’re the No. 19-ranked team in the country and they are very big and very good, but our young ladies never quit out there tonight,” said YSU head coach Cindy Martin.
“We took a whole lot of 3-point shots and we were hoping to make a lot more than we did tonight,” added Martin.
The Penguins, who have lost seven straight, were hampered even further against the Panthers when junior top scorer Bojana Dimitrov wasn’t able to play as she is still recovering from a concussion sustained last weekend.
That left the Penguins with six healthy players and senior Kaitlyn March, who is still hampered with an ankle injury but played 18 minutes against the Panthers and scored her first six points of the season.
The Penguins had just one player in double figures with freshman Brandi Brown netting 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Panthers, who started four players who have never started this season, were led by 6-6 sophomore Pepper Martin with 13 points, while junior Jania Sims added 11 and Selena Nwude, Sophronia Sallard and Shayla Scott all had 10 points each.
Nwude also had a double-double with 10 rebounds.
Popovec was excited to be back home playing again.
“It felt just like I was back playing in high school with all the family and friends in the stands,” Popovec said. “After two years of being away it was good to see that nothing has changed here.”
The Penguins didn’t help themselves at all, especially early in the contest.
They began the game by hitting just one of 18 shots from the field and fell behind the Panthers 24-3 in the first 13 minutes.
The Penguins shot just 22.4 percent from the field on 13-of-58 shooting and were 7-of-25 from 3-point range. They were also dominated on the boards as the Panthers held a commanding 56-26 advantage.
With just six healthy players the Penguins began to wear down in the second half.
“We were really drained after the game,” said Brown.
The limited roster has also hampered the Penguins in practice.
“We’re now down to practicing two days in a row and then one day off, just to try and keep them fresh,” said Martin.
Pitt scored the first six points of the game including the last two by Popovec before the Penguins finally scored on Rachael Manuel’s jump shot with 18:20 left in the half. But the Penguins wouldn’t score another basket until the 7:39 mark of the half when Maryum Jenkins canned a 3-point goal. By that time Pitt had built a 24-3 advantage,
Actually the score could have been worse since the Panthers also had an early cold spell where they missed eight consecutive shots and committed three turnovers during a five-minute stretch.
During that five-minute span the two teams combined for 21 missed shots and eight turnovers before the Panthers finally went on a 15-0 run to blow the contest open.
Pitt led by 28 at intermission, 47-19, and increased the lead to 40 points after a 12-0 run early in the second half, 64-24. They didn’t reach the 50-point margin until 1:15 was left in the contest at 87-37.
The Penguins begin a four-game road trip Saturday at Akron with a 2 p.m. tip-off at Rhodes Arena.