PITTSBURGH — The Duquesne women’s basketball team practiced Monday prior towards its bus ride to play Cornell non-conference Tuesday night.
Duquesne currently is riding a seven-game winning streak and in his latest bracketology, ESPN’s Charlie Creme named the Dukes as one of four 12 seeds. In this projection, Duquesne was the lone Atlantic 10 team in the field, selected as the conference’s automatic bid and it would face Arkansas in College Park. Oregon was the top seed in that region.
As a team, Duquesne currently is atop the A-10 standings with a 7-2 overall record, recovering from injuries and overcame both those as well as dropping the opening two games this season.
Prior to boarding the bus, Burt sat down to break down his team prior to the Cornell contest. The below content is lightly edited for length.
Zac Weiss: We have seen Amanda Kalin shown great improvement this season? How has Amanda’s confidence helped her grow and develop as a player?
Dan Burt: “I think that is all Amanda. Amanda was that way as a freshman and was just about to get off the cusp of just being a role player and was going to challenge starters and then she had the traumatic injury that affected her freshman year. Last year we’ll put that on the coach, who did not do a good enough job of giving her more quality minutes. I said her freshman year that I think Amanda Kalin is a hall of fame player and I still believe that. I compared her game to Dev Workman’s, now I may be comparing Dev Workman’s game to Amanda Kalin. She’s played very well, she has to do it over the course of an entire season, but very pleased with where she’s at.”
ZW: How did Laia (Sole) take this summer to refine her game and become more of the consistent force both of you have expected?
DB: “Laia and I really worked on our player-coach relationship and got to know each other better. I don’t think it was a physical or skill thing with her, it was more us getting on the same page mentally. To her credit, she really put a lot of emphasis on working on her relationship with me. Her mental game is so strong right now, she’s a great teammate. She wants to play 30 minutes a game, but when she’s not in there, she’s the loudest kid cheering.”
ZW: A couple of players that maybe you did not expect to receive many minutes this season in Machaela (Simmons) and Caroline (Elliott) have had opportunities, what has it meant to you as a former walk on yourself, to see them get that experience?
DB: “Mac goes into the game and the first thing she does is jack up a shot and it drives our assistant coaches crazy and they yell at her. Then I pull her aside after they yell at her and say ‘shoot it again’. I know exactly what she is going through and she has the green light to shoot it any time as long as she is the first one back in the lane to guard and defend. Caroline is actually a high-level athlete. When we have Elite camp when she was a high school senior we had 30 D-I players and she tested out at the highest vertical, she has a 25-inch vertical. Her best basketball is ahead of her, she is getting back into the routine and comfort of playing with the ball. We put her in a tough position because she has never played point guard but when she plays the last few minutes of games, she has to play there.”
ZW: You have had to overcome multiple injuries, how do you feel the team has done in terms of focusing on the task ahead?
DB: “We’ve lost two starters. Both of those injuries were from a mental standpoint really difficult because those are two kids who did not have success early and continued to believe in the process and fought through some serious adversity to have success. I still get choked up about AP’s situation because she was having the game of her life at Lafayette. She had nine points and nine rebounds in 12 minutes. The great thing is that both of them will be back and have two more years each and be sixth-year seniors. The eight or nine players that regularly see the floor know they will all play so it allows them to be super focused on the scout, so they are ready to play and keep them in there.”
ZW: The situation with home games this year is what it is, but are these circumstances good for a young team forcing them to embrace the uncomfortable?
DB: “It is a situation where we have moved past the awkwardness or headaches of not having a home arena. This is what we have, we will make the best of it and win. We’re going to be dialed in and focused on winning and not whether is a logo on the wall that is not a Duquesne logo. When you play your rival and then you play a game at Oakland Catholic, a small high school gym that you don’t even get a practice schedule. When you play Toledo in a home game and you never played there, we did not have a practice or shootaround at LaRoche, so really that’s an away game. It says a lot about us not making excuses and really being dialed in on the positives and really executing to be successful.”
ZW: What it take to tune out the uncontrolables and how has the team gone about that?
DB: “We can’t complain. We can’t be individuals and we learned that. I’ll leave it at that.”
ZW: Tuesday’s game is another test but maybe in a different way, how is that going to be another notch in the toolset come March?
DB: “This is a really difficult game. They are a good team. They have not played the most difficult schedule and don’t have the biggest size, but what they do have are five starters returning and one of the better players in the Ivy. They rebound the ball as well as anybody in the country and the statistics prove that. When you have a veteran team that rebounds like that and plays smart, we are going there. We are two days away from finals and we have a seven-hour drive ahead of us. We’ve got to be dialed in and ready to go. This is a good test for us and I am really looking forward to this game. We’re going to see what we really are.