PITTSBURGH — As non-conference play draws to a close, Duquesne women’s basketball junior guard Libby Bazelak has proven to be a force that has been tough to answer, but it seemed for a split second in the Power Center gym that she may have finally met her match.
When teammates Laia Sole and Angela Staffileno accompanied Bazelak to get to the interview all three were joking about the latter’s accolades which made the humble Kettering, Ohio native offer an embarrassed smile.
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Throughout her Duquesne career, Bazelak has been softer spoken, allowing on-court play do any necessary talking. Simply put, Bazelak does not like talking about herself and admittedly the interview in conjunction with this piece would be the most she was asked to do so.
“It’s definitely tough, I don’t like talking about myself and being in the spotlight,” Bazelak said. “I think it’s good because it’s not only for myself. It is good that we start getting recognition for Duquesne and our team. I think we deserve that.”
Bazelak’s play this season has done plenty of talking as the reigning co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Week averages 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while also ranking second in all of NCAA Division I with a 50.9% three-point shooting percentage.
“That kid continues to shoot the ball at an incredibly high percentage, make really good decisions and is just a really good basketball player.” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt said after the team’s recent win over Kennesaw State.
BECOMING A WELL-ROUNDED LEADER
By no means has this success been handed to Bazelak who this season alone has battled a left-knee injury which limited what she could do in summer workouts and is still not fully 100%. It was difficult for her to figure out the injury while also determining new ways to be able to score the basketball.
“With my injuries in the summer I was practicing a little bit but wasn’t doing as much as I could have been, which sucked,” said Bazelak. “I worked on my shot a lot with Coach Matt (Schmidt). I think that helped and I think we all realized we had to step up and had a better year than you were last year.”
Bazelak stated that those summer workouts focused mostly on form shooting with one step going into the shot.
From his vantage point, Schmidt saw an individual willing to do whatever it took to contribute to her team and the summer only further proved this.
“What sets her aside from other players is her toughness,” he said. “She is just mentally tough and doesn’t let things slow her down from a physical standpoint. Mentally she is tough on the court from quarter one to quarter four. That is a real testament to her and who she is. She is just a winner from the word go.”
While Bazelak was sitting out of practices over the summer, she remained very engaged as she not only provided more of a vocal leadership role, but also had a chance to see her teammates and how to set them up into positions of success.
This vocal role was something which used to not make Bazelak comfortable, though the process has become easier now.
“I think it definitely started a bit last year when we were going through some rough patches,” said Bazelak. “We had some people who were just lost on the team last year. I started to be more vocal last year because I felt we needed someone, a leader, to step up. This year when my injury in the summer I couldn’t do much so I had to do something to help us as a team. We needed to mold into a team still.”
What also inspired Bazelak was a sense of urgency, which she tried to provide but admitted that she should have become more of a scorer.
Despite a talented roster, the season did not meet expectations as Duquesne not only missed postseason play but failed to win 20 games, both of which were program staples.
“I think I could of (become more of a scorer) but it was a little too late,” Bazelak said. “We all were struggling shooting the ball last year, it’s hard because we were getting in the gym but shots weren’t going our way. It was hard finding lineups.”
When Bazelak set out this past summer to become a scorer, the knee injury came which certainly threw a wrinkle into things and it allowed for another realization.
“I think I’ve had to find other ways to score the ball,” said Bazelak. “In high school and earlier on, I was a shooter but could do a little bit more. Now I am a shooter because I can’t attack like I used to and my defense is not where I should be. My teammates are able to get me the ball, it is their awesomeness and coaches calling plays.”
Those teammates have indeed been key to Bazelak’s success, not just from what is seen in games but also by what is understood. In an effort to keep Bazelak ready for games she has sometimes had to miss drills or practice altogether and instead of complaining, the team accepts the situation.
With a month remaining prior to this season beginning, Bazelak began to countdown and was frustrated that her knee was still bothersome but her missing practice also allowed teammates to step into leadership roles and challenge each other to keep the standard high while making practice productive.
Though she does not show much emotion on the court, no one may be more competitive than Bazelak whose siblings both play at the collegiate level as well. Maddie played for Duquesne’s volleyball team and is now a graduate transfer for Ohio’s women’s basketball team, while Connor is a quarterback at Missouri.
Bazelak’s competitive drive is not only strengthened by her family but also by like-minded teammates which is a key reason why Duquesne had a 10-game winning streak and currently leads the Atlantic 10 heading into conference play.
.@DuqWBB junior Libby Bazelak 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and four steals in come-from-behind win over Kennesaw State to win #A10WBB Co-Player of the Week. She also leads the A-10 and the NCAA in 3-point % at .519!
— A-10 Women's Hoops (@A10WBB) December 23, 2019
A NEW CHALLENGE
Bazelak admitted she was more of a role player in those first two seasons, the first of which caused her to lose some love for a game held closesly to her heart.
Duquesne was coming off what it considered a down season when Bazelak recruited after her junior season and the guard graduated from a 115-5 Archbishop Alter women’s basketball program and also was a captain on the women’s soccer team.
She entered Duquesne a winner and as is the case with most freshmen expected to play frequently. Instead Bazelak found herself overwhelmed both physically and mentally as she averaged 16.8 minutes per game and started four of the 33 games she appeared in.
“I felt a little lost my freshman year and definitely missed home,” she said. “It was an adjustment from the weight room and conditioning. When you’re tired from the weight room, you can’t do as much on the court and that gets you frustrated and then you don’t remember a play. You feel like it is a cycle. When you have so much going on and you are upset with so many things surrounding the game, it’s hard, you get frustrated at the game.”
Losing some love for basketball is a tough thing to process and it can represent a low point in a person’s experience and Bazelak feels she simply lost track in the game being just that while also having fun.
Bazelak understood why she was not playing as much as she desired, it was several different factors and as a result she set out to play as much basketball as she could in the summer entering her sophomore year.
Whether it was one-on-one or five-on-five, Bazelak wanted to play and get that feeling back. When she returned to campus she attacked both the basket and her goals.
She knew that the coaching staff had her back and sure enough Bazelak started 31 of 32 games last season with the one exception being senior day.
“I was a freshman and I was struggling with the plays,” Bazelak reflected. “I was not strong, I was struggling. I worked my butt off that summer, I worked really hard because I knew what I had was valuable on the team. The coaches saw that and it made a difference.”
Bazelak was back playing the game and loving it once again.
Libby Bazelak sparked @DuqWBB in its win over Dayton, notching 10 rebounds and seven points, including this layup that proved to be the @UPMC Game Changing Moment as DU pulled away in the third frame. pic.twitter.com/ASWZQZNmQr
— Duquesne Athletics (@GoDuquesne) February 11, 2019
THE TEAM PLAYER
When Matt Schmidt talked to Bazelak upon Duquesne recruiting her, he made one thing fairly clear on the phone, that he saw some similarities in her game with April Robinson.
All Robinson did was lead Duquesne to its lone NCAA Tournament berth in program history and last season, her jersey was retired.
“Her leadership is by example,” Schmidt said of Bazelak. “She is always in the right spot, offensively and defensively. She understands multiple positions on the floor and in transition she understands every position we have her run. She makes her teammates better and they know it.”
Any time Bazelak is asked in a press conference about her personal success, she is quick to defer to her teammates.
“When you look at our basketball team now, Libby has had great success and done so because she is such a team player,”said Schmidt. “Her ability to get her teammates to rally around her as well. You look at what she has done for our team and we have balanced scoring for the most part. A lot of that is because of her, her ability to rebound the basketball, make assists and understand what we need to do offensively or even defensively she is that leader right now. She does it with the help of her teammates and that is because she is the ultimate team player.”
Indeed Bazelak’s confidence appears at an all-time high and she has every reason to feel that way. Whether it is in the classroom as a physician’s assistant major, where she hates not getting A’s more than missing a layup or on the court, Bazelak’s competitive nature, her desire for success drives her.
In the past Bazelak admitted that she had to defer from scoring and contribute in other ways. This season, she has not only scored but had two double-doubles on the season from the guard position.
“Teammates get me the ball and I’ve just been shooting it,” she said. “In the past I felt maybe not pass first but I wasn’t really a scorer. Now that I feel like I am a scorer and every shot I put up I am confident in myself and I know I need to make it for the team.”
Given Bazelak’s success, she understands that she will be more of a focal point in opposing teams scouting reports and is prepared for that challenge, one she has experienced in recent games.
“I saw that on the flip slide with Chassidy (Omogrosso), Juca (Vojinovic) and even Kadri (Lass) a year ago,” said Bazelak. “I have the ball in my hands coming up the court which makes a big difference. I don’t have to run around the court to get the ball, I already have the ball. I can make plays that way. I like a challenge, I want to play against the best, so it’s good. It will also give us an opportunity to learn from it and get going as a team.”
As the 30-minute interview session concluded, Bazelak released one final smile.
Basketball brought her from dribbling and breaking things at home to playing all across the country. Bazelak knows her time playing collegiate basketball is running out and even if coaching or playing overseas is the next step, she does not have much time left and she wants to give it her all.
“The game has given me a lot and I’ve given a lot to the game,” she said. “It’s important to have something you love to do and it has made a really big impact on my life. I just want to make the most of it right now.”