DAYTON — It was a quiet Duquesne Women’s Basketball Team following a 54-47 Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinal loss to Fordham, the second consecutive time the Rams have ended the Dukes’ conference-tournament title hopes.
Duquesne was able to lead for 2:23 of the second quarter, but ultimately fell short.
“We’re incredibly proud of the year we had at Duquesne and we’re hoping it’s not over,” Duquesne coach Dan Burt said. “There are a lot of people that didn’t give these kids a chance. We won 20 games and I am hoping we will be able to play in the postseason. When you play a team that defends how Fordham does, you hope you make a few less mistakes than they do and a few more shots. If that doesn’t happen, then you end up on the side of the ball we did today.”
From a senior perspective, it is unknown if the season will continue in the WNIT or if a game against Fordham again will be a season-ender something which certainly is weighing heavily on Duquesne’s three seniors in Nina Aho, Paige Cannon and Angela Staffileno.
“It’s obviously stressful, but we can just worry about right now,” Cannon quietly said. “We’re still going to practice, be in the gym and be ready. If our name is called we will be ready. I’m proud.”
In the Feb. 25 contest between the two teams, it was more of an offensive-oriented game which is exactly how Duquesne wanted it, but why did it become more defensive Friday night?
For one, Duquesne went from shooting 50% from the field to having a 32.8% mark and had a 20% shooting percentage from three. Duquesne only shot over 33% in one quarter, which was the final one when Libby Bazelak made a couple of baskets.
It is clear often times that though this team has leaders, when it comes to executing on the court, this team goes how Bazelak does. The All-Conference Second Team junior guard struggled to find the basket as Fordham, which had the toughest regular season defense in the conference showed exactly why that is.
A couple of things helped Duquesne in the meeting a couple of weeks ago.
For one, Fordham was playing its fifth game in 10 days, with the Duquesne contest serving as the third road test. Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley stated after the game that her team was tired and had a defensive breakdown.
Also Duquesne was motivated in multiple ways. First off, of course the previously mentioned A-10 Championship semifinal setback where Fordham more than doubled up Duquesne on the latter’s home court, but there was more to it.
Burt stated after the regular season contest that the team was further motivated because of actions conducted by one of Fordham’s assistants.
The unnamed assistant, he stated was in Pittsburgh for recruiting and mentioned Fordham’s significant margin of victory over Duquesne. Word got back to Duquesne’s staff and it was quickly passed along to the players who were upset, which only provided additional motivation.
Friday, Fordham’s defense proved to be stingy and according to Rams coach Stephanie Gaitley, the pace of play may have affected Duquesne.
“They’re the top offensive team, we’re the top defensive team,” she said. “The quicker you take the shots, the more possessions you give them. Make them have to play defense, last time I thought we played in their hands. This time I thought we stuck to the game plan.”
In the regular-season contest, Duquesne was able to effectively guard Bre Cavanaugh and Friday she achieved a double-double consisting of 22 points and 10 rebounds. The 22 points came on 5-of-16 shooting.
On paper based on the higher volume of shots, it would seem as though Duquesne defended Cavanaugh well, but she also drew nine fouls, and the A-10 Player of the Year made all 10 of her free throws. Aho drew the assignment of guarding Cavanaugh as an All-Defensive Team selection and had some success but fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately points aside, Burt expressed disappointment that his team did not do enough to get the ball in the basket.
“We had a situation where we felt we were trying to attack the basket and be more aggressive offensively,” said Burt. “We came into halftime and Fordham is an aggressive team defensively and they only have four fouls. We wanted to really take it at them and go to the free-throw line. The kids listened, but at the end of the day you have to attack to get a bucket and we didn’t do that or get to the line enough.”
WAS THE YEAR A SUCCESS?
Every single year Duquesne expects to win at least 20 games and play in the WNIT if not the NCAA Tournament. Last season broke that decade-long accomplishment but this year the 20 wins are back.
As Burt stated earlier in the week, it has been a good year, but does that constitute success?
Success is an interesting word because it can be spun in many different ways whether it is to console yourself, light a fire under your team or even to use you platform to speak about the team but maybe offer more of a resume or credentials to get you towards that next step.
Yes, Duquesne graduated 5,000 points last year and lost Halle Bovell for the season before any game even counted, only to see Anie-Pier Samson also depart right in the middle of her best game in a Dukes uniform.
Players had to understand that they would have to fulfill different roles and with the chance for everyone who was healthy to play, that certainly helped. Everyone put up shots at the Power Center on a consistent basis.
The offense was the highest-scoring in the conference under Matt Schmidt. The defense built more confidence as the year went on and Cherie Lea found her voice. Vanessa Abel’s shooting and training programs made the team want to put in the extra work to be better as she made an immediate impact at her alma mater.
Duquesne played home games at LaRoche University, PPG Paints Arena and Oakland Catholic High School this season and found a way to win games, including its first eight of the season in as many gyms.
As far as Burt is concerned, there is no question that the season was a success, he just hopes that the success continues with this team.
“I can’t thank these kids enough for what they’ve done, they’ve been absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I’ve looked at this as a foundational year. This is re-establishing in a sense of who we are. Our kids were in a gym on their own every single day. There was not a complaint about our travel and home-gym situation, it was about solutions. This is probably my favorite team I’ve ever coached. They are an incredible group of young women who are great student-athletes and great people. I love them to death and I hope we have another opportunity to play again.”