McCANDLESS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Never has an anti-climatic finish been such music to the Duquesne women’s basketball team’s collective ears.
Throughout the regular season, Duquesne has been able to build leads but had some adventures trying to maintain the lead and with a younger group which was considered generally new when the season tipped off, it has been about trying to level the inconsistencies.
“For anyone that has been watching our games, we’ve had a few missteps and it’s lost us a game and made for a few really close ones,” redshirt senior Paige Cannon said. “We’ve been working on that kind of stuff in practice trying to get ourselves more comfortable in game situations and we handled the pressure well today. It shows the work in practice pays off and we don’t have to freak out at the end of games.”
Indeed Duquesne has worked hard in practice recently at simulating these end of game scenarios down to the minute details.
At a recent practice, Duquesne put 1:30 on the game clock, split up the team into two smaller groups two timeouts and played through a four-point game. The exercise tested patience, inbounding, rebounding, making free throws, simulated referee decisions and reviews and managing through timeouts used to advance the ball.
During Sunday afternoon’s Atlantic 10 contest against Saint Joseph’s, the Dukes were up 11 points with 59 seconds remaining.
Though the advantage was further than the one in practice, Duquesne did the small things. Whether it was the more experienced Amanda Kalin explaining to freshman guard/forward Amaya Hamilton that the former needed to inbound the basketball or making both free throws when the opportunity arose.
Duquesne kept the 11 point lead and was able to win a 53-42 contest at LaRoche University’s Kerr Fitness Center.
“By no means did we relax because they shoot the three well enough that they can hurt you and we weren’t scoring the ball,” Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt said. “We wanted to learn from our previous games where we made late mistakes.”
For those who have followed Duquesne in recent years, it used to be common for Burt to analyze the locker room immediately after contests ended. In the past, just winning was not enough and it would lead to quiet locker rooms. Sunday was not much different.
“We have high standards and we want to be great,” said Cannon. “At the end of the day we expect so much out of each other and of ourselves. At the end of games, we’ve had those flaws and we have to stay positive in the fact that we did win, but we do have things to work on. That’s a good thing for us.”
AN UNEVEN GAME
Burt was admittedly concerned at how Duquesne was going to start Sunday’s game and there were several factors in play.
For one, Duquesne had a week in between games which always is a tricky situation. Teams are so used to nonstop action where having a day off is sacred, so having a week off allows for a needed reset, but also provides an opportunity for rust which an opponent can take advantage of.
Junior guard Libby Bazelak admitted that though Duquesne had a week off it was in a unique situation given how the team finished last Sunday’s win off at VCU it almost felt like a loss, so how the team responded both in practices and in the game itself would be telling.
Duquesne started off quickly scoring 12 of the game’s first 15 points and doing so entirely from the paint. It was clear that Duquesne was the aggressor in the first half, but that certainly was not the case in the third quarter.
Even from a paint perspective, Saint Joseph’s showed adjustments conceding 20 total points which had Duquesne trying to find ways to counter.
Duquesne made one field goal in the third quarter and just consistently appeared a step slower on both ends of the court.
“We just had a bit of a rough third quarter,” said Bazelak. “When we aren’t making our shots, it seems like everything else kind of goes too. We’ve just got to find a way to put 40 minutes together.”
Cannon believes the slip came because of a potential feeling of comfort.
Duquesne had already played Saint Joseph’s in this conference slate and perhaps with the way the first half transpired, there was a feeling that the Dukes had the game won.
Though the fourth quarter was not a tremendous improvement, it was enough to defeat a Saint Joseph’s team that has struggled in conference play.
“In the third quarter especially, our ball movement was not as good and our off-the ball movement was not as good,” Burt said. “Some of that was Saint Joe’s making some adjustments we didn’t react well too. I’m happy that we still found a way to win the basketball game by double digits. To give up 23 points in the third and fourth quarter is always a good thing. I am trying to take the good away from everything.”
NO REST IN SIGHT
During Duquesne’s previous home game against St. Bonaventure, Burt went with a unique lineup for a large portion of the second quarter and Sunday this again held true, though for a different circumstances.
Bazelak was the lone Duquesne starter in to begin the quarter and played 39:23 of game action, proving again to be irreplaceable on the court. She was joined by Amaya Hamilton, Kiersten Elliott, Precious Johnson and Angela Staffileno.
“It’s for us to build for the rest of February,” Burt said. “The last two weeks of February we do not have a day off. We’ll need all nine of those kids to play significant, important minutes. We have a very tough stretch and we don’t exactly have all the creature comforts that other Atlantic 10 teams do with travel. We’ve got to have all nine ready to go.”
If anything, giving nine players minutes is important from a conference championship perspective as potentially playing a quarterfinal and three games after in as many days is a big ask if your depth does not produce.
“At the end of the season it gets hard,” said Cannon. “You want to feel comfortable to play anyone and that’s how we feel for the most part. Towards the end of the season your body starts to wear down and to be able to have eight or nine players come in and give us good, solid minutes every time helps us a lot.”
Though the combination was short-lived it is possible that the quintet will be heard from again before the season ends.
SOLE SETS EXAMPLE
Perhaps the most important play of the game did not even involve a made basket.
Duquesne had possession with redshirt junior center Laia Sole having possession of the basketball, when she found herself in a tricky situation.
Saint Joseph’s sent a double-team and she continued to pump the ball at the top of her reach opening herself up to either passing or trying to break the defensive pressure.
As Sole turned her body looking for an open teammate, she was unsuccessful as the Hawks pressure was becoming suffocating.
With a five seconds call or a turnover forthcoming, Sole decided to turn to a referee and call timeout. Burt broke into a large smile and shouted “good job” at Sole as the team gathered in a huddle.
Even at the postgame pressure, Burt immediately nodded in recognition of the sequence, showing the moment stuck with him.
“It’s important to for them to know they can call a timeout to save us a possession, that was a very smart play by her. I was glad to see that Laia did that tonight.”