PITTSBURGH — Heading into Saturday afternoon’s City Game against Pitt, the Duquesne women’s basketball team had an optional 9 a.m. shootaround but when everyone showed up, it provided a clear message.
Duquesne was able to win by its largest margin of victory in series history besting Pitt by an 81-62 score Saturday at the Petersen Events Center.
The victory is the ninth in these last 11 City Game contests.
“We always get looked down upon because we’re Duquesne and in the Atlantic 10 and they’re Pitt and in the ACC,” junior guard Amanda Kalin said. “We always have a chip on our shoulder because of that. People overlook us. We’ve proven that we’re just as good if not better.”
Coming into this game, both teams used social media campaigns about taking back the city were it to win Saturday and one Pitt tweet even going a retweet from the official City of Pittsburgh Twitter account, which only seemed to provide further motivation for a Duquesne team that had plenty.
“The casual fan thinks that and people who really know women’s basketball know we’ve been pretty darn good for the last 11 years, we’re 9-2,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “The hardcore fans look at this as an important game because it’s good for women’s basketball and the alumni feel that regardless of if the men are playing or not.”
— Duquesne Women's Basketball (@DuqWBB) November 23, 2019
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Very simply this game was won in many ways, but three in particular stood out.
For one, Duquesne had 31 bench points, while Pitt managed just four in 40 minutes. Regardless of talent level or an off night of shooting, that is a very significant difference.
Freshman Amaya Hamilton matched her career high with 17 points, scoring 14 of those in the first half while coming off the bench and did so in 24:42 of court time. She played efficiently and purposefully while not appearing to be a freshman in any way.
“I’m just a really competitive person,” she said. “We had a big rivalry when I was in high school and I was excited this game and to be part of it. I was a little nervous at first but it went away really quickly because I wanted to win.”
Secondly, Duquesne just appeared to be the hungrier team. Every 50-50 ball or loose ball, Duquesne vigorously attacked and in one instance, a sure backcourt violation on Pitt, a Panthers played essentially watched and then trailed Nina Aho as she pursued the ball and two possessions later it turned a six-point disadvantage into a double-digit deficit and coach Lance White could not call a timeout fast enough.
“I really did not have to tell them anything,” said Burt. “We have a group that plays very hard when they’re on the floor and it is so nice that you don’t have to coach effort. Everyone will dive on the floor. We’re scrappy and our boxouts were good today. A lot of that is those kids having that demeanor and the younger ones understanding what our culture has been for years.”
Pitt had seven assists versus 19 turnovers on the afternoon and Duquesne took those miscues, transforming them into 24 points.
“The turnovers I thought were the difference in the game,” White said. “They had 24 points off 19 turnovers and that is a staggering number.”
While Pitt had trouble holding onto the basketball, Duquesne was able to be a more clinical unit recording 13 assists on 16 second-half baskets including a 7-of-8 mark in the third quarter.
Additionally, Amanda Kalin continued her pace from the previous five games scoring 16 points and set the standard early with a basket as she charged through the lane and also recorded an and-one play prior to the first quarter media timeout.
Duquesne was able to maintain this pace as it exceeded 80 points for the first time this season.
“When it’s a game like this, you have to come out with intensity,” said Kalin, “We know we can’t start slow against a team like that because it is harder to recover. We were ready to go from the start.”
AHO MAKES HER RETURN
Though Burt was coy on her status for Saturday’s game, Nina Aho not only played, but she started and flirted with a triple double.
In 31:18 of court time, Aho scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded seven assists, good for a +20, the best plus/minus figure among the two teams.
Aho had missed the team’s two previous games from a concussion she sustained at Manhattan, but showed no such signs Saturday.
“Nina two days ago had a very good practice, her first day back out of concussion protocol,” Burt said. “I turned to (assistant coach) Vanessa Abel and said ‘I think she’s starting to get it’. She is embracing going up strong and not playing the victim when she’s hit. Nina has dealt with a lot of injuries in her career and sometimes she’s fallen to the ground like she’s been shot. Now she is embracing the physical play, especially at the rim which is going to make us very different.”
PITT GOES BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
For Pitt, this loss was a tough pill to swallow. It led for 1:40, which came because freshman guard Dayshanette Harris scored the game’s first basket.
Winning the City Game a season ago clearly meant a lot to a Pitt team trying to gain momentum and confidence and matching that result Saturday may have meant the same with so many new faces.
“We’re disappointed in our performance,” White said. “You hate to lose in the city, but this one especially because you want to run the city. Duquesne played great and I thought made big shots. Their kids outhustled us, got every loose ball and were tougher than us. As a coach that was disappointing.”
As previously stated, Pitt did cut its deficit to six points in the second half, before a costly turnover turned the pendulum back in Duquesne’s direction.
Freshman guard Dayshanette Harris, who scored a game and career-high 22 points, stated that the team came together realizing it had to step back on Duquesne who had been the aggressors and when it came down to assessing the unsuccessful effort, stated “that’s how that went”, with a sheepish grin on her face.
“We have to simplify things,” said White. “We don’t understand a lot of stuff and that paralyzes us. I think it’s panic. I want to play fast, it is using your athleticism to play fast. In the first quarter we did a better job of moving the ball and reversing. You get a shot instead of a great shot. Defensively so many of our freshmen have not had to play solid defense in their careers.”
A positive for Pitt was junior center Cara Judkins’ play. After recording a double-double in last year’s meeting between these two teams, Judkins amassed eight points and matched a career-high with her 13 rebounds.
Both Judkins and Harris had to take on additional responsibility as Amber Brown was held to four second half points, Gabbie Green was held scoreless in the first half and Aysia Bugg scored a season-low seven points on 3-of-13 shooting.
“When the bench isn’t doing as much as they usually do and Aysia is not able to hit her shots because they are guarding so well it just tells me I have to go out and get every rebound,” Judkins said. “Whether that is defensive so I can get it up to Day so she can push in transition or on offense to give us a chance for a put back or to kick it out. It just makes me want to work harder After a game like this we have to work on our craft. Aysia is not always going to be open, they’re going to defend her because she is the best player on our team. Not everyone is going to hit their shots, so we just have to get to the gym and focus on what we need to do.”
White did provide an update on junior guard Kyla Nelson who started conditioning and shooting this week. The targeted return date is mid-December and if everything continues to progress will allow her to slowly return back into the rotation.
“That would be a huge boost for us and have another player who has been through the wars and understand ACC basketball,” said White.
WHAT DOES THIS GAME MEAN?
With this being the lone City Game of the season, it was clear that both sides understand the importance of this game and its respective desire to win.
If that was ever lost on Burt, he can take a quick look at his phone and quickly be reminded.
“It’s a special day for me personally because so many people contact me sending me messages about this game,” he said. “Our players on our team now understand this game’s importance and that it was fun… I appreciate Lance continuing our series. A lot of power-five schools do not because they are going up to 20 league games.”
For his part White would be well within his rights if he wanted to pull the plug on this rivalry game, but his desire to continue this series speaks to what it means to the city.
“I love being able to celebrate Pitt and Pittsburgh basketball,” said White. “It’s a great thing to have the City Game and battle it out. It helps us and I love games within cities where you can come and get energized by the fans and community rallying for women’s basketball.”
“I definitely think there is a sense of urgency in that we want to win this,” Judkins said. “It is more of a pride game, we want to win this to say we won the city and playing for Pitt. This is probably one of the most important on our schedule. They are a good team but this was not the outcome we wanted.”