McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In recent games, Laia Sole admitted that Duquesne had spacing issues which were affecting the team and that it was seeking to correct the problem.
If Wednesday night’s 84-63 victory over Atlantic 10 foe George Mason is an indication, Duquesne is off to a good start in trying to amend a stretch that resulted in four losses over the stretch of the last six games.
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“I feel like we went away with what worked for us with transition, getting the ball in the post, not cutting into each other,” Sole said. “We understood what we did wrong, watched a lot of film and got better from that.”
Indeed, Duquesne refused to get pushed around and was able to establish a dominant position early and often to the point that George Mason opted to call two timeouts in the first quarter.
Duquesne’s spacing frustrated George Mason all along and it did not hurt that the Dukes had 23 assists on the evening, including helpers on each of the first 11 baskets.
Quality offensive possessions were what Duquesne desired and plenty of ball movement which included post touches set the offense to a performance which included its best field goal percentage of the season at 56.1% and highest three-point shot percentage at 58.8%.
Early on it was Sole being able to get the ball in the paint and kicking out for an Amanda Kalin three-point basket. When Duquesne worked it inside out for a second consecutive possession with the same result, it was off to the races.
“We were crisp tonight,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “(George Mason) didn’t bump cutters, so you can enter it in the post to Laia who is such an effective passer we can really dice people up. People didn’t bump us on cuts and we were able to get freedom of movement.”
With Duquesne converting at a high rate, Burt was quick to credit Sole for her refusal of getting pushed off the block and establishing herself, which forced Mason’s hand.
“When you shoot the three the way we shot it tonight, you put so much pressure on the defense, you have to pick your poison and tonight it was tough for Mason to pick,” he said.
Burt admitted that he considered Sole’s performance which consisted of 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in nearly 28 minutes of work, quiet.
What was not quiet was the impact Sole made on this game.
For one thing, Sole drew seven fouls, which is a testament to her ability to properly position herself on the court on a consistent basis.
“I thought Laia played exceptionally well and our players played well off her,” said Burt. “With movement without the basketball and staying clear of the lane to let her operate and then kick out and for other players to shoot threes.”
While on the court, Sole was seemingly in the right place at the right time all game long She also was supportive on the bench, even rising up before Kiersten Elliott made the catch and fire on a three-point shot. Elliott did wind up making the shot.
“It Is important for all of us to have that energy whether it is the starting five or the people on the bench,” redshirt junior Kiersten Elliott said. “When we get that energy, we have momentum to start the game. We always have a strong start from that energy.”
PUTTING SOME RESPECT ON THE NAME
The Kiersten Elliott story is an interesting one as she started as a walk-on but in the summer of 2018, she was surprised with a scholarship.
Privately, some people around Burt expressed some doubts about this feel-good story.
“Kiersten is a kid where people told me that she was not good enough to play here,” he said. “That really irks me.” This year I’ve had people this year say that to me. Kiersten Elliott is a pretty damn good basketball player.”
Elliott backed that up Wednesday with a career-high 14 points.
“She is shooting nearly 40% from the three line and gets a couple of deflections,” said Burt. “She could play more minutes but we have an established three-guard rotation. She’ll take a few minutes with her emergence this year. I’ve always believed in her because her work ethic is exceptional and commitment to be a good basketball player is exceptional. She is good at shifting the D by ball faking and shot faking. I didn’t expect her to shoot it this well this year, but she’s spent so much time in the gym working on her game.”
It was not just any 14-point performance, but a perfect one as Elliott was five-for-five from the field making all four of her three-point shots.
Burt teased her in his post-game press conference, referring to the nickname of “angel because she is kind of perfect in her life”. Still it was clear he was proud of her performance.
Elliott started the game on the bench, and saw what her teammates did, noted it and when she came into the game, tried to continue that.
“A lot that went into it was understanding what the right decisions were by watching my teammates, especially the guards,” she said. “They know what they are doing and I tried to copy that. I focused on staying calm because I can think better and see the court better. I have worked on ballhandling and just being a consistent shooter.”
As far as the deflections are concerned, Elliott stated it has to do with being aware of defensive assignments and respecting who is being defended. From there it is using her long arms to prepare for the catch and try to go for a deflection.
Elliott is generally softer spoken when doing interviews, but was all smiles sitting next to Sole. The two have a special friendship which was clear as each complimented the other on the podium and always are supportive of each other.
Hours after the game, Sole tweeted that she was Elliott’s biggest fan and the latter returned serve stating the same.
Duquesne’s defense has admittedly been its weakest area this season, but efforts such as the one Wednesday night have the Dukes trending in the right direction.
“We expected to be a defensive team and struggle on offense,” Sole said. “We’ve been working on it and have a segment or two each practice just on defense. Coach Cherie (Lea) is doing a great job and we are trying to keep pushing.”
In each of the first three quarters, Duquesne got off to fast starts which allowed the defense to apply pressure as George Mason was rushing shots and frequently struggled to get quality looks.
“Our defense comes from our offense,” said Sole. “When our shots are falling, that is when we pick it up on defense and you just get confidence.”
This is Cherie Lea’s first season as Burt’s “defensive coordinator” and she has been vocal on the sideline trying to set Duquesne in positions to establish success on the defensive end.
It has been a learning experience as much for her as the team as the season has continued.
Previous Duquesne teams have had prolific offenses and this one is no different, but it is clear that defense has its importance in helping a young group find confidence and success in Atlantic 10 play.
Now the task is to improve every day which Elliott believes has been the case. Duquesne will next travel to face Saint Louis on Sunday.
Here is an updated look at the Atlantic 10 standings.