PITTSBURGH — Dan Burt entered the Duquesne women’s basketball locker room at the halftime of Tuesday evening’s Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship first round game against Rhode Island looking for something to be critical of to keep his team level-headed, so he took his best shot.
“You all need to rebound the basketball better,” the sixth-year coach offered.
Then he stopped short, because the team shot 70.6% from the field and while it trailed by one rebound, it is hard to have opportunities that just are not there.
Duquesne did wind up winning the rebounding battle, but more importantly received contributions from everyone on the court and won 106-69 to advance to the Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinals against Saint Louis.
“When you make shots and shoot 70% in the first half, you’re going to feel really good about yourself, and we did,” Burt said. “It is the start of our third season and I’m emphasized that our back is against the wall. There is no postseason if we lose on Friday or Saturday. I don’t think we had an air of desperation tonight, but rather an air of confidence.”
Check out highlights from tonight's opening round of the #A10WBB Championship between @DuqWBB and @RhodyWBB! The Dukes will play host to the remainder of the championship in Pittsburgh! pic.twitter.com/eLBV4NeEFR
— Atlantic10Conference (@atlantic10) March 6, 2019
From the moment the ball tipped off, it was clear that there was not much doubt as to who would win the game. The victory was not wire-to-wire as Rhode Island did lead for 15 seconds in the first quarter before a Chassidy Omogrosso three-point basket placed Duquesne in the lead for good.
That three was part of an 18-4 run to open play after which Rhode Island coach Daynia La-Force quickly called a timeout.
“I thought Duquesne did a really nice job of starting the game off with some confidence and some aggression,” La-Force said. “When the early shots started to fall, there was no turning back for them. I think defensively we tried everything to stop them, but they found a way to score on every defense that we were in. Offensively we scored 69 points which is one of our better offensive nights, just turnovers hurt us in the first quarter. It was a case of them being very aggressive on the offensive end and it put us on our heels early.”
Duquesne would score a program-record 42 points in the first quarter, which is also the most points Rhode Island conceded in any quarter this season by 14.
“The past few games we’ve gotten off to fast starts, which sets the tone,” said Omogrosso. “It is always a goal to have the other team call the first timeout.”
If Duquesne felt any stress about this game, it failed to show and a lot of that was because of the team’s seniors.
Early on, the seniors made plays for each other and the energy became contagious as everyone who saw the court got into the act.
It started with Omogrosso making shots, which opened up others, namely Conor Richardson who had her best scoring effort this season with 20 points.
Richardson made all of her layups and Duquesne made 21-of-29 such efforts.
Julijana Vojinovic had 13 points but only took four shots, instead deferring to her teammates, most notably in the fourth quarter when the bench came in. Vojinovic did make all four of her shots.
“Juca was fantastic tonight,” Burt said. “She did share the ball and Paige Cannon did the same thing. That is what really good players and teams do. Juca is playing her best basketball and is very much dialed in.”
Kadri-Ann Lass was held to two points and four rebounds, in 17 minutes, but recorded five blocks which surpassed her freshman-season total to rank third in program history, while also compiling a +27 for the evening.
It is clear how when these four succeed, the team is able to achieve success and combined with redshirt junior Eniko Kuttor, the quintet is now tied for the third most wins in program history.
Burt likes to call his five seniors “four pros and an MBA”. He believes that Kuttor, Lass, Omogrosso and Vojinovic will play professionally. Lass in fact was considered a WNBA prospect before the season.
As for Richardson, her health will not allow her to do that, but she will remain a part of Duquesne’s sideline next season as a graduate assistant.
“I owe so much to the game in general that I have to give it my all,” she said. “My teammates push me and have the confidence in me that I won’t practice but that I will have their backs in the game. I really am blessed to have teammates like that and I am so blessed to have teammates like that. I love them so much, I love this game so much, there’s nothing I would do.”
As great as Omogrosso and Richardson were in this game, it should not be lost that the bench recorded 61 points, which nearly outscored Rhode Island by itself.
“Everybody that touched the floor today gave us something,” Richardson said. “If we continue to do this through the tournament, we can’t be stopped.”
Burt does not use the word bench with his players. He has started several different combinations of players but of course as the team has found success, roles have seemed to firm up with everyone both understanding and accepting of her role.
“The opportunity to get kids out there who play 5-6 minutes and have them play 10, 15 and even 20 minutes is beneficial to them,” said Burt. “They’re ready and we’ll need them. It allows us to rest Conor and get Libby off her legs. We really don’t have any injuries but it lets us hold our reserves.”
Richardson was able to play 13 minutes, Halle Bovell who has been Duquesne’s most physical post also played 13 minutes and Libby Bazelak saw 21 minutes for a second consecutive game, which is her lowest total since the team’s season opener against TCU.
In turn, Laia Sole played 20 minutes and scored 14 points, Paige Cannon got to play 19 minutes and Kiersten Elliott played 13 minutes, the second-highest total in a Duquesne uniform.
“It’s a testament to our depth,” Richardson said. “Coming this time of the season when we can play this many girls, that is amazing. There’s no letup and our starters get some rest. How many points was it, 61? Hey, you can’t stop that. Just our bench could have beaten a team.”
Duquesne has a unique opportunity to win its first-ever Atlantic 10 Championship and in turn celebrate on its own home court.
Still this is the start of the so-called “third season”, where all that matters is the next opponent. Duquesne is well aware of that
“Overall as a team, I think they want to be remembered in a way a good basketball team that lived up to its expectations,” Burt said. “We can still live up to what our expectations were before the season began, but we can’t lose sight of what happened in the past.”
What Duquesne clearly showed today is that it is a team that is gelling at the right time, with a now six-game winning streak.
“Some teams peaked 10 games ago and we’re peaking around tournament time,” said Richardson. “You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
While Duquesne can of course dream for a conference title which would result in book-end NCAA Tournament berths for the senior class, they will live in the present.
La-Force though is not shy to offer a prediction.
“They’re a well-balanced team and well coached,” she said. “If it keeps going like that, they should definitely win the A-10. They have a lot of confidence playing on this court, these are their rims and they are hosting the tournament. There is a lot in their favor.”