McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Admittedly, the Duquesne women’s basketball team will concede that defense was its biggest weakness to date this season, but when a recent unnamed former high school coach visited practice, he quickly found out why this was such a deficiency.
“I was kind of bemoaning our defense there, especially early in the year,” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt said. “He said ‘Danny I come to your practices three times a week and 80% of it is offense. No wonder why you can’t guard anybody’. We took that enlightenment and started guarding people in practice. The kids have done a nice job guarding over the last five or six games.”
Duquesne was demonstrative on defense all game long, holding St. Bonaventure to 25.5% shooting from the field in a 58-39 victory Thursday night at the Kerr Fitness Center.
“The Duquesne Dukes guarded somebody,” said Burt. “That feels pretty good that we guarded and did a nice job.”
Following a tough loss to Saint Louis, Duquesne was returning “home” and the air quotes are around that word due to the Palumbo renovations and the team’s consistent travels, with LaRoche University’s Kerr Fitness Center a good 20-30 minute drive away assuming there is no traffic.
As cliche as it sounds, good defense travels and even though there appeared to be some exhaustion present, this was the case Thursday.
Burt and defensive coordinator Cherie Lea issued the directives for posts not to go above the free throw line to guard and not watch the guards go beyond the line.
“I was incredibly happy with how we defended tonight,” said Burt. “Bonaventure is a team that will embarrass you if you don’t know personnel. If you don’t touch, talk and take defensively, they will embarrass you with slips. Tonight we defended very well and we’ve harped over knowing personnel.”
Though, St. Bonaventure’s season has been quite a forgettable one to date based on its record, Duquesne made sure it did not overlook the Bonnies and that began with defense.
“We stressed knowing our personnel and what each player on Bonaventure did,” junior guard Libby Bazelak said. “That helped us a lot defensively going under and over screens and really staying in front of their drivers.”
With the defense on the rise it will now prepare for one of its toughest conference tests to date facing a VCU opponent on the road Sunday. The Rams are tied atop the conference standings with Dayton, a team Duquesne did find success against on the road.
AHO A TEAM PLAYER
To say Nina Aho’s time at Duquesne has been a roller coaster with injuries galore and even this season missing time, which has been admittedly tough for the redshirt junior guard.
For the second time in the last three games, Aho scored in double figures with 11 points and committed just one turnover in 29 minutes.
“I haven’t played in two years, so it is still a little tough to find my rhythm and all of that,” she said. “I’ve got the support, my teammates and coaches are backing me up. This season has had ups and down but I am going to keep pushing.”
Burt believes Aho is arguably Duquesne’s best on-ball defender which speaks volumes given the defensive prowess some of the Dukes consistently have, but he believes to know why the Hungarian played well Thursday and it involves her scoring the ball.
It was a revelation which came both from watching film and discussions as well.
“She needs to feel confident scoring the ball,” said Burt. “We really had been playing her more at the two and the off-guard instead of the point. Nina in her career has only played point back at home. The last two practices and tonight, we’ve tried to move her more to being the primary ballhandler and that has translated into her shooting the ball with more confidence. She’s playing better basketball as we progressed.”
Perhaps that effort is why Burt believes the Bonaventure game was one of the best in her Duquesne career.
As for Aho, even though her time at Duquesne has presented several unique challenges, she has powered through each of them as the team playing willing to do whatever it takes.
“If it is defending their best guard for 40 minutes, a point guard, whatever they need to support them and help them,” she said. “Defensively, I think my talking has definitely gotten better. I just try my best. Defense is almost the easiest part of playing, it is your heart, your effort and will.”
Now everything is coming full circle for Aho as she sees the court and even through tired eyes following Thursday’s game offered a smile of gratitude for what she accomplished not just Thursday, but how her season has gradually improved as the Atlantic 10 Championship fast approaches.
“Those two years when I was out I tried to support them and now they are giving it back to me,” said Aho.