As Duquesne Women’s Basketball Coach Dan Burt entered his team’s locker room, he could not help but notice that tears were falling down multiple players faces following a 67-57 loss to Rhode Island Wednesday night at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
This is the eighth time in 11 losses that Duquesne has lost by 10 points or less, and the Dukes last led with 1:51 remaining in the third quarter.
“We can’t continue to lose close games and we can’t continue to have passivity at times, we have to be the aggressors for 40 minutes, not 24 and that was tonight,” Burt said.
Duquesne did start out as the aggressors taking an 11-2 advantage but began settling for long shots and took four free throws for the entire game.
There was a clear emphasis placed on winning the opening minutes as the bench was very active early on, but that edge started to subside.
Rhode Island was daring Duquesne to take jump shots and instead of challenging, the Dukes settled for those shots with mixed results, but Burt admits that this approach was a passive one.
While Duquesne’s scoring was widespread, its issue is one that has plagued the team for much of the season. The Dukes can score in bunches, but typically this becomes one player with a second player not able to compliment the hot hand.
“Today it was what (Rhode Island) did playing the zone,” said Burt. “Then it was us by not attacking the zone. When we attacked space, we got 12-15 footers or we Nashed it and found someone on the weak side. This is not an issue of talent if you ask me, this is an issue of correcting things and continuing to remain positive as we try to dig into this.”
Now at 6-11 and 1-4 in the Atlantic 10, Duquesne is at a crossroads.
For his part, Burt certainly said the right thing, calling his team “the best 6-11 team in America”, which certainly was a sign of optimism and belief in the Dukes.
It is true that save for the opening week, Duquesne has been in practically every contest, but more often than not, the Dukes have found a way to drop those games.
Still, Burt believes the issues plaguing his team will improve.
“We have enough talent to do that,” he said. “I just got done talking to (Rhode Island coach) Tammi Reiss, and she goes ‘Dan you could easily be 4-1.’ She’d tell me the truth, she is straightforward, and I agree with her. We’re close, but we’ve just got to fix some of these things.”
As established earlier in the season, Duquesne is playing without several potential starters and after playing in the VCU game and for a few minutes against Richmond, Amanda Kalin has been a scratch for the last three games.
Additionally, Snezhana Serafimoska, who earned some minutes during non-conference play, also did not play in this contest.
Duquesne also has Libby Bazelak, Halle Bovell and Laia Sole, experienced players who have dealt with injuries during the offseason and with the bench becoming thinner, they are being depended on to continue to produce at high levels.
Beyond this trio, Duquesne has a young roster still trying to learn and gain experience. Between last season and this year, has dropped several close games.
As Bazelak and Sole took to the podium for the postgame press conference, there still was a bit of annoyance and disappointment in trying to process another close loss.
“It is hard on us and takes a toll on our confidence, but I feel we keep pushing and we don’t give up,” Sole stated. “We’re practicing very hard and it’s just a matter of time. It just gets frustrating when you’re right there and you have it and don’t get it done. It’s annoying, but we need the feeling, so we keep working until we get the win.”
In his time at Duquesne, Burt has been accustomed to WNIT berths and also saw one campaign that resulted in an NCAA Tournament experience.
That has now been replaced by a disappointing season in which he stated Duquesne underachieved, dropping close games while dealing with several injuries.
Now Burt believes all signs are there for a correction, and hopes that Wednesday night was a tipping point, and that last season does not repeat itself.
Hearing the words tipping point initially seemed to be an annoyance come the press conference, but now Bazelak believes it is on Duquesne to keep working hard to get a positive result.
“I feel like we keep saying that and we are working very hard in practices,” said Bazelak. “We keep saying that it’s going to be the tipping point and we just have to keep working and not get frustrated, which is easy to do in our situation. There’s really not much else we can do but improve on things we are doing well and watch film.”
Across the board, Duquesne feels that it is a good basketball team, something that a simple record does not state, but now the Dukes are aiming to find a positive result Saturday at Saint Louis.
“I don’t care if it’s on the road or home, I’ll take every single win,” Sole said. “Our record shows they don’t come easy. We don’t like moral victories, but we do fight hard every game. Teams don’t like to play us because it’s always a tight game, however we have to get better at closing.”