PITTSBURGH -– Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt could not help but bury his head in his hands when asked onThursday how tough this season has been.
Just minutes before, Duquesne fell 71-63 to a UCF team that was moving quickly and essentially shut down the Dukes in the game’s final 15 minutes.
“I’m not going to lie, this has been a very tough year,” Burt said. “We’ve had some injuries to key people and we’ve not performed up to our capabilities. I am certainly in no way worried. What we’ve got to do is get back in the lab, and I have to hold them to the fire.”
As far as the injuries go, senior guard Conor Richardson missed four games after having knee surgery, something which she is still working back from as evidenced by both a brace on her knee and a total of six minutes played in this contest.
Redshirt sophomore guard Nina Aho is out for an undisclosed reason, having last played Nov. 25 against Saint Francis. Redshirt junior guard Eniko Kuttor is now fully participating in pregame warmups, but has yet to see time on the court, while redshirt junior forward Angela Staffileno dealt with an injury in the offseason, though she is now available to play without limitations.
In the setback to UCF, both teams had its runs, with Duquesne trailing 13-0 within the opening few minutes, prompting an early timeout call.
“From the beginning, we should not allow them to be up by 13,” senior guard Julijana Vojinovic said. “We were playing at their tempo and turning the ball over. Finally we were able to manage the basketball and tried to fight and did not lose faith. Being down by 13 at the beginning cost us a lot.”
It was clear that UCF’s pressing zone defense and high-ball screens were frustrating Duquesne and led to several unforced errors.
Duquesne dared UCF to shoot the three and in the first half the Knights did, going 5-for-7 from the field. As Duquesne was making its comeback, the UCF bench was shouting for the team to work the ball inside and that was where UCF found success, repeatedly burying mid-range jumpers.
“When you play a team like UCF there are no moral victories, they attack your weaknesses and they scout well,” said Burt. “They were able to do what they wanted to do which was get in the lane. They are queens of 15-foot jumpers off the dribble off of power, which is side pick-and-roll. I didn’t think they would hit that many shots. We did everything we could to get the ball out of certain people’s hands and force them east-west rather than north-south. I like the way we are trending, we are getting a little bit better.”
Duquesne did briefly come back and take a four-point lead, but UCF picked its defensive intensity back up and forced turnovers. Duquesne did have several looks, most of which were from three-point range, but did not drop. Duquesne came into the contest shooting 26.9% from deep and shot 8-for-26 on the evening, a 28.6% clip.
“I still feel it’s going to come, everything will settle and we are getting to the gym more,” Vojinovic said. “We just have to believe it’s going to happen.”
In a similar refrain to the TCU and Texas games, Burt stated it has to come down to veterans and again showed visible frustrations both with a slowed-down tone and vocally. Sure, Burt understands that several of these teams Duquesne has played will make the NCAA Tournament, but that is not to be used as an excuse.
“Our veterans have to start making shots,” he said. “We can’t have people be 2-for-12 and 5-for-14. We’ve got to find a way, that is as players and as coaches. We might have to change lineups but we can’t win and be successful when Chass (Omogrosso) and Juca (Vojinovic) are 7-for-26. They have to shoot at a higher percentage.”
PLUS AND MINUSES/H3>
During Wednesday night’s press conference, Burt admitted he does not look too much into advanced statistics and given the outcome, that may have been a good thing.
Duquesne had nine players see the court and two of them had a positive plus-minus. Richardson was one and she had a +1, but that came in a small sample size of the aforementioned six minutes.
Amanda Kalin was the second player, finishing at a +5 in 20 minutes.
In this game there were some confusing moments, such as Burt not calling a timeout as Duquesne was shooting itself out of the game and Duquesne being inconsistently aggressive, but Kalin not playing more may have been a bigger miss.
For one, it sends a message to senior guards, all of whom received preseason conference accolades to raise their collective game or sit, but secondly Burt told a Penn State reporter after last Wednesday’s contest between the two programs that Kalin may be the team’s best player this season, so it could be interpreted as a mixed message.
Kalin has not failed to be aggressive and while she was 2-for-8, she created her own shots and was consistently willing to drive to the basket, while also contributing with two assists to no turnovers and grabbing a steal on the defensive end.
Assessing the starting five, Vojinovic finished the game at -16, Kadri-Ann Lass was a -10, Libby Bazelak a -9, Paige Cannon a -5 and Chassidy Omogrosso a -4.
While plus/minus is certainly not the end-all, be-all statistic, it is a telling statistic and the fact that the entire starting lineup fell under the proverbial red line is certainly a cause for concern and one which can explain this loss.
LAYUPS HARD TO COME BY
The layup is the easiest shot in basketball, until proven otherwise, but Wednesday, Duquesne shot 5-for-14 on its layups.
“We drove it hard in the first half and we didn’t get a couple of calls I thought were there,” Burt said. “Amanda Kalin was taken out on one and the kid was vertical. That kind of allowed us to shy away from driving as much.”
Vojinovic believes that the team rushed shots and that played a role in the missed shots.
“Everytime we broke their press and the person would rush the layup,” she said. “Maybe we were a little scared at the beginning, I’m going to admit that. The whole team started to pick up. Maybe it was frustration, maybe a quick shot.”
Lass agreed with her teammate and cited the need to try and keep things simple instead of over-complicating things.
“We needed to just relax,” said Lass. “It’s a layup, it is not anything crazy. I could have embraced the contact and I faded away. I missed two in the second quarter too.”
As the game started to get away from Duquesne it seemed as if players were launching open shots and the combination of said shots not falling, some foul calls and a questionable traveling violation on Lass, seemed to lower some shoulders.
“A lot of our mistakes do come from frustration,” Lass said. “We get frustrated and start making mistakes which snowballs into what happens. Coach is right, we do need to get to the free-throw line. We have to keep embracing the contact and not settle. It is frustrating that he needs to keep saying that because it has been a month.”
“WE’RE NOT THERE YET”
Duquesne is a veteran group and one which has high expectations placed on it by outsiders, but more importantly each other.
It is why Burt appeared stressed in his press conference and why he can be critical of its performance.
This for example, is Burt reflecting not not getting timely rebounds.
“(UCF) got critical, important offensive rebounds at critical times, and we didn’t,” he said. “That is where I am more disappointed in our team than anything. We have to be more aggressive and that is why we are not an NCAA Tournament team. Until we get those rebounds and face up when we catch it in the middle of the zone and we’re really aggressive instead of having the ball stripped from us, we’re just going to be okay.”
He later stated that games such as Wednesday’s come down to who wants it more and he conceded that perhaps it was a reflection on him.
This was something Lass noticed as well.
“I don’t think we matched their energy at the end,” Lass stated. “They had higher energy and that’s definitely not good. That is something we have to figure out because this is not the first time.”
Then Burt described perhaps being too nice with his team in practice and that the team needs to be nasty to each other, something he surmised could be done with shorter practices.
“As a coach that is hard for me to do because I love those kids to death and I need to teach nastiness,” said Burt. “I’m going to go read up on it because there are some ways to do it, but I am obviously not doing it well enough. We have to be tougher.”
Currently Duquesne has played eight games with four up and four down with another five contests to play before Atlantic 10 season begins.
While much of what Burt said was critical, it was stated because there is a clear understanding and belief that Duquesne can overcome some of these early season hurdles and have several of these issues minimized come Jan. 5.
“It’s an every day process,” he said. “I told the kids in the locker room we are trending upwards. The things I have railed on are correctible. Juca took good shots and sometimes didn’t get a call. That happens.”
THEY SAID IT
“It always feels good to get recognized. I don’t like to be at the center of attention so I was a little nervous but I didn’t have to do anything. it shows I’ve done something right and it motivates me to keep going. We know this season is not even close to over and we have some things to fix.” – Kadri-Ann Lass on being honored with two pregame balls for scoring 1,000 points and setting the program’s all-time blocks record