PITTSBURGH — As the Duquesne women’s basketball team celebrated 90’s Night at the Palumbo Center, its 81-73 victory Wednesday over Saint Joseph’s could be the story all about how the team’s season got flipped, turned upside down.
At least it hopes that will be the case.
There was a familiar feel to Wednesday night’s effort, one which displayed why Duquesne has become known as a team which wins 20 games a year and plays postseason basketball.
“You expect this to be every game,” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt said. “We had our lull and whatever you want to call it and we’re back. We were back in the George Mason game, but if you look at the first half we had every shot we wanted, the ball didn’t go in the hoop. Today it did and we feel like we’re back.”
— Duquesne Women's Basketball (@DuqWBB) January 17, 2019
After the game, senior guard Julijana Vojinovic expressed good feelings about the victory while Kadri-Ann Lass and Chassidy Omogrosso both nodded next to her.
“This is the first game, or maybe one of them where we boxed out really hard,” she said. “We lacked in some other games to box at but this specific game, we were very good. Everybody contributed with what they were best at. We just need to show more support to each other and everything will be better. It already has started, it’s not going to be great right away but it feels really nice that things are better.”
In terms of overall play, this was probably Duquesne’s best effort of the season. Duquesne shot 58.3% from the field and were the clear aggressors on both ends of the floor.
“That is Duquesne Dukes basketball,” said Burt.
PLAYERS REACT POSITIVELY TO THE MEETING
Sunday PSN’s Scott Elliott reported on a meeting Duquesne had following a loss to Davidson in which a frustrated Burt aired a laundry list of disappointments on his team.
Burt felt the meeting was needed because it got some elephants in the room out and got some issues resolved withe the team spending 3-3.5 hours ironing out the issues. The time of this meeting did not include any redundancy, attack or an unnecessary emotion.
“I’ve been in college basketball for 23 years or something like that and usually you have a meeting like that once a year, but I’ve never had a meeting like that,” he said. “I thought it was the best one I’ve ever been a part of. A lot of credit goes to the seniors but to the team overall and holding ourselves to a standard we always had but we let slip a little bit and us as coaches too.”
This game was the first time since said meeting that Duquesne as a team had an opportunity to publicly respond to the meeting and how it helped.
Duquesne had a different glow about it Wednesday and it started on the defensive end where for the opening 2:30 it was clear that a team interested in scoring the basketball was ready to defend.
“I think we were avoiding some of our problems for a while and everything kind of exploded,” Vojinovic said. “Once we separated each problem and dug into every single thing. They were all little things we can change. It helped so much and we are giving each other so many more positive comments.”
Following the game, Lass was all smiles because she felt the meeting allowed the team to breath and focus on the task at hand.
“Everyone got to say what they wanted to say so everyone is kind of lighter and the overall emotions are more positive,” said Lass. “Everyone is working harder. None of us realized how much each of us were going through and once we got that out of the way, we realized we are all in this together. It’s very easy to support each other and be happy for each other. Today everyone could see more smiles and we felt more comfortable on the floor.”
Prior to the season, Burt admitted it was a challenge trying to keep things fresh and fun with a group that was completely returning save for Caroline Elliott and Machaela Simmons, both of whom are redshirting.
Given Duquesne’s season as of the Davidson loss, it was safe to say his fears were confirmed, but that the meeting has changed things.
“I think we all got stale so we decided to simplify things,” Burt said. “I’m constantly saying ‘move’ which is to get the ball out of your hands and treat it like a hot potato. When we move that basketball, defenders can’t keep up. They might get to the first pass and if they’re really good a second pass, but we feel like we’re in a really good place right now. The past is the past, our focus will be on Richmond and no one else.”
Going with this idea, Burt was looking to boost morale with an idea assistant coach Matt Schmidt provided. Duquesne was looking to go on a run so it could call a timeout to celebrate the run.
Ultimately Duquesne did not have to call the timeout as Saint Joseph’s did the deed for them but the Dukes still celebrated all the same.
“We have to feel good about things and they’ve felt really good overall since that meeting, 1-through-16,” said Burt.
SENIORS LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has a saying he consistently tells his team, “so what, now what” that also frequently is stated to the media and his advice is something Duquesne’s seniors appear to have taken with them.
It almost felt as though Duquesne had a choice with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter as Paige Cannon drove towards the basket.
In the past Cannon might have looked for hers despite a trail defender getting set to double team her in the post, but instead the redshirt junior found Lass who got a shot off just before Saint Joseph’s could get in a position to properly contest the shot. Lass was also fouled on the play.
Though the free throw did not go in, it was now clear that Duquesne was invested in this game and was willing to make the higher-percentage plays.
That make was one of many which seemed to get the Duquesne team, particularly its seniors, going.
Vojinovic set season-highs with her seven rebounds and six assists but perhaps most importantly say down and defended at a rate she had never done in a Duquesne uniform.
Burt believed she played her most complete game.
“I have to personally keep doing it even more,” she said. “At the beginning it was so annoying when Coach Burt kept telling me to do all of these things but then I thought ‘how about I just listen’. I was stubborn and now I listen, which has helped a lot. I love when all of my teammates tell me what I can do better. I guess it was one of my games and I hope it keeps like this.”
Lass set a season-high point total and consistently was able to find her shot, especially in the third quarter while also recording three blocks.
“Kadri-Ann Lass looked like a draft pick tonight,” Burt said.
Omogrosso scored 17 points in 30 minutes off the bench and seems to be fully embracing her newer reserve role.
“I’ve been in this position before, I was in it freshman year,” said Omogrosso. “As long as I’m playing and doing anything I can to help my teammates win, that’s what I’m going to do. I know they need me, so I’m going to cheer on the bench and do what I can when I am in the game to help us win. You have to let some of that go at the end of the day, I know my teammates need me.”
These three seniors also recorded the best plus/minus rates of anyone on the floor.
Conor Richardson was not on the podium but was able to get hands on passes and her backdoor cut to begin the third quarter helped set an offensive tone for her team.
Really, everyone that came into the game made a positive contribution.
As a team, Duquesne was able to outrebound Saint Joseph’s with eight of 12 Dukes recording a rebound.
“This is the first game, or maybe one of them where we boxed out really hard,” Vojinovic said. “We lacked in some other games to box at but this specific game, we were very good. Everybody contributed with what they were best at. We just need to show more support to each other and everything will be better. It already has started, it’s not going to be great right away but it feels really nice that things are better.”
The energy also was improved on the defensive end, even if the field goal percentage did not reflect that as Libby Bazelak held Saint Joseph’s senior guard Alyssa Monaghan to a hard-earned five points in the second half.
Duquesne dared Saint Joseph’s to take shots and largely those went in, which was why the game was a higher-scoring, faster-paced effort.
Really Duquesne got Saint Joseph’s best shot and was able to find a different gear.
In Wednesday’s contest, Duquesne took 21 free throws while Saint Joseph’s took eight, further proof that the home team was the more aggressive of the two.
Additionally, Duquesne was all over the floor going for loose balls, showing a willingness to do the dirty work.
“We haven’t dove on the floor with that many different people in any game I can remember since maybe back to the NCAA Tournament team,” said Burt.
Now with Duquesne playing its most complete game, the seniors are tasked with making sure there is no complacency or playing down to Richmond Saturday or during the rest of conference play.
“I think at this point we still can’t go anywhere but up from here because we don’t feel we are at our peak yet,” Omogrosso said. “We have to keep a level head, competing and playing hard every day. We know, we can only go up and we still feel like that. We’re not settling for this win tonight, we know we have to come in tomorrow for practice and be ready to go. There is no let up at all.”