PITTSBURGH — It has largely been a non-conference campaign to forget for the Duquesne women’s basketball team but it was able to gut out a 54-53 win Wednesday night against Temple on a Libby Bazelak free throw in the closing seconds.
“You look back at this as a win and not what it was, an ugly basketball game we were able to gut out,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “We played with some toughness and with a little belief. We had three charges and multiple dives on the floor. I am really happy with some of our effort but by no means was this a masterpiece.”
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Burt admitted that season has felt long due to having a road-heavy slate and frankly this team just has not won as much as it is either used to or expects.
For them it was a slap in the face that Pitt played harder and simply wanted the City Game more and the past few days have been spent on getting back to the basics.
Wednesday’s game had many peaks and valleys but ultimately it was Duquesne which prevailed.
“I think this was exactly what we needed to finish this non-conference schedule,” Duquesne senior forward Kadri-Ann Lass said. “We obviously have been struggling a little bit so this gives us confidence, especially in late-game situations.”
In this game, Temple was without sophomore forward Mia Davis who was suffering from an undisclosed injury. Davis is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder which was a double-edged sword.
For Duquesne, it spent much of the past two days scouting sets with her as she is instant offense and now it would have to adjust to Temple which had a clear advantage in trying to play through sets without Davis in the starting lineup.
Temple still had to overcome that obstacle which was not easy and it had six assists on 19 made field goals and had 18 turnovers, many of which were on traveling calls due to potentially being in less than advantageous positions on the floor.
Davis’s absence certainly was more of a benefit on Duquesne’s end but it was unexpected nonetheless which was a wrinkle that could serve the Dukes well moving forward.
“We had to adapt to what others were going to do so that was another positive,” said Burt.
BAZELAK HAS CAREER GAME
For Duquesne the two biggest numbers in this game were 35 and 6 and both correspond to Bazelak, the first being her minutes and second being her offensive rebounds total.
Duquesne was a +6 in rebounds and much of that difference was compiled on the offensive end, which Bazelak excelled at.
Bazelak recorded her first double-double in a Duquesne uniform with her 12 points and career-high 10 rebounds.
“There is a reason why she played 35 minutes,” Burt said. “That ball may have come at her face but there is a reason why and it is because she moved her feet to know where the ball is coming off the rim. To have six offensive rebounds as a guard, that’s exceptional and is all about effort. A little bit of intuition and a lot of just getting to the glass and not accepting standing and watching. That’s the best stat of the night, maybe of the year.”
For her part, Bazelak felt like a magnet but was willing to take a couple of hits to give her team possession.
“A few of the rebounds, I felt like the ball was attracted to me and sometimes it literally hit me in the face,” she said with a smile. “I don’t know, I felt good today my legs felt good and I felt I could jump.”
Last year Bazelak came off the bench and did not receive as much playing time but over the summer, she was able to earn
Prior to the season, Burt stated to Pittsburgh Sports Now that Bazelak would be used as a starter and was pleased that she was poised and played within the offensive system.
“I’ve been working my butt off this summer and hard work pays off,” Bazelak said. “I just knew that I could be a big part of this team and I wanted to get on the court as much as possible. It’s not even about starting, just being on the court and making a difference.”
When Duquesne made changes prior to Wednesday’s tipoff, both Chassidy Omogrosso and Julijana Vojinovic were removed from the starting lineup while Bazelak stayed put, which shows both a belief and confidence from Burt.
It is no coincidence that this belief comes in a time when Bazelak has been able to bring the basketball up the floor more often.
“Growing up I was always a point guard, so I think last year was kind of hard adjusting because Chass and Juca played point guard, so we had three point guards,” said Bazelak. “I am a lot more comfortable with the ball in my hands, I am able to do more.”
Before the game, Burt stated his team would need to rebound the basketball and make open shots, both of which Bazelak was able to do.
TOUGHNESS AND ENERGY
Burt is admittedly a fan of Hamilton the musical, and less than 24 hours prior to Wednesday’s tipoff the sixth-year head coach was in attendance for opening night, where one phrase caught his attention.
Talk less, smile more.
This frequently uttered line in Hamilton is something Burt brought back to the Palumbo Center to share with his team and goes along with the idea of keeping things simple, which is something he emphasized in recent days.
Wednesday’s effort featured more post entry passes and more efforts towards the sideline in transition. Duquesne also showed more aggressiveness in driving to the basket and took 16 free throws.
Burt is not shy to state that Duquesne has not performed up to expectations and was true to his word that any leash or benefit of the doubt was gone.
“You have to give me something now,” he said. “You have to please me and doing that is putting the ball in the basket and sitting down and guarding people and rebounding. If it’s not working for you, you’re going to have a seat. We’ll probably be the kitchen sink for a while. We’ve had one or two people shoot well but never three or four this year. That is one of the reasons why we are 6-7.”
Another wrinkle Duquesne wants to throw in is man-to-man defense. Simply put, he wants the days of sitting back on defense to be over.
“We’ve got to learn how to defend the drive well and we’re going to do it now, this year, this Atlantic 10 season,” said Burt. “I don’t want to sit in a zone. We did play zone but not as much in the past and you will see that going forward this season.”
One other thing Duquesne did differently was on offense and waiting to call plays until 15 seconds remained on the shot clock, which allowed the players to take a breath and even have an opportunity to read the defense.
The players seemed to understand this shift and appeared to be more focused on the court.
“We just focused on the little things and doing those right to bring the whole picture together,” Lass said. “The past few days we have been simplifying things. I think we all had the same idea and the same goal. We knew what we had to do today. Everyone had that extra motivation to work even harder than ever.”
As far as Hamilton’s advice, Burt still classifies that as a work in progress.
“I just know that I will search for any answer I can to motivate our team to have success,” he said. “It will take our entire roster and everyone will play a key role at some point.”
A CRITICAL LATE DECISION
After Bazelak sank the go-ahead free throw, Temple used a full timeout, its last stoppage of regulation.
After inbounding the ball, sophomore guard Desiree Oliver was being guarded by former AAU teammate Amanda Kalin and Burt was calling for the latter to foul.
Duquesne had three team fouls in the fourth quarter and thus had one to give before Temple could shoot any free throws.
Burt also had another vision in his mind.
“I was worried about Desi Oliver, the Penn Hills kid being the hometown hero,” he said. “I wanted us to foul, I wish it was one second later because then it would have been near impossible to get an open look and shot.”
Kalin did foul with 4.2 seconds remaining but did so before Oliver could get downhill which would have allowed Temple to inbound the basketball at an advantageous angle.
With Temple out of timeouts, it would have to improvise a play and Duquesne had to guard out the rest of the game.
Ultimately the ball ended up in Marissa Mackins’s hands and her three-point shot was off the mark, falling well right of the basket which secured a victory for Duquesne.
“I think (the foul to give) was incredibly important,” said Burt. “Blame the coach, we have not practiced that enough. Our kids executed it well.”