The Duquesne women's basketball team opens the Atlantic 10 tournament at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against Rhode Island, a rematch of Saturday's regular-season finale. The Dukes lost five of the last seven games of the season but got a really favorable draw in the tournament as the sixth seed.
If Duquesne (18-11, 10-6 Atlantic 10) defeats the 11th-seeded Rams, they would advance to face third-seeded Fordham (the other Rams) in the quarterfinals. The good news? The Dukes have beaten both of those teams twice, including once in the past two weeks. Even better: Duquesne is 6-2 against the five other teams on its side of the bracket.
I caught up with first-year head coach Dan Burt this afternoon to preview the tournament.
[... and check the end for an extra note.]
To start, what's your broad outlook on the tourney and your first season as head coach?
"In terms of the tournament, we like our draw because we've had success against the teams we've drawn. We like the fact that we have a game at 7:30 against Rhode Island, and if we can get the victory there we'll play again at 7:30 Friday. We're in a situation where things are repetitive and we can be in a groove. We don't know who we're going to play beyond Fordham, but we do like the draw we received.
"Overall on the season, I think we'd all say — from players down to coaches — that we're disappointed because we had so many double-digit leads that were not able to hold onto for a variety of reasons. In some ways we have a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouths, yet we still won 18 games. The mark of a good team is winning 20 games in a year. We're not at that point yet. Hopefully we'll get to that point and surpass it by the end of the season. But right now we've got a little bit of a bitter taste of our mouths from not closing out some games."
Is the silver lining in these last seven games that at least the two teams you beat are the first you'll see in the tournament?
"We match up well against the teams on our side of the bracket. Losing five of your last seven is never a good thing. You lose a game against St. Bonaventure where you're up 22 in the second half but you only get two baskets in the last 10 minutes. You're up 10 in the second half against George Washington. Those are very winnable games. And then the St. Joseph's game we lose on a buzzer-beater. You win two out of three of those and all of the sudden you're at .500 [over the streak] and up to 20 wins and you've got a couple top-50 wins there. A big part of that is we've not shot the ball well, and we've got to get our groove back there. We've got to get healthy. We're pretty banged up."
What would hitting that 20-win mark mean, this being your first season?
"A friend of mine, Pat Sullivan, who played at Chapel Hill and won a couple national championships as a player and as a coach and has been to many Sweet 16s — he's [an assistant coach] with Wizards now. He always said to me, 'If you win 20, it's been a good year.' To do that in my first year and tie the third-best mark in school history would be fantastic, but we're going to take it one game at a time. We're hoping to not only reach that 20-win mark but to surpass it. We have expectations that we're going to be playing for at least the next three weeks."
Back before the season began, you said Raegan Moore would surprise everybody, and now she's your second-leading scorer and was named third-team All-Atlantic 10. How did you know?
"Raegan's work ethic has always been consistent and very, very good, but she did even more so this summer and went the extra mile. It was really a confidence game with her. She's really developed confidence in her game and her abilities, and she knows the staff has a lot of confidence in her also. You get a player with that type of skill set and athleticism and add confidence, and they're going to have success."
I'd imagine this senior class is pretty hard set on finishing strong ...
"They have goals they want to reach, and they haven't met them yet. These next three weeks are going to be very important. They want to leave as the all-time wins leader by class, and they're three away from that. They want to play in the NCAA tournament, which is something no one has done here at Duquesne. It is entirely possible, because we do like our draw and we think we can get to the finals. Anything can happen once you get to the finals.
"They also have some individual goals to go along with some of the other team goals that they have. By no means are they satisfied. Wumi [Agunbiade] is as fresh as anybody on this team, from a mental standpoint as we go into the tournament. Wumi is not practicing very much because she's nursing some injuries, but I think that's only benefitting her because it's allowing her body to rest and heal."
[Note: The women's team has gotten little to no attention on here since I arrived — really no idea how it was before I got here. There are a few logical reasons for that, but excuses are weak. The women's team isn't one of my beats — for the curious, my beats are West Virginia football, Duquesne men's basketball and Robert Morris hockey. Our Pitt football writer Sam Werner covers the women's hoops in the area, but that spreads him out a bit over several programs, so in the future we'll work together to provide more content on the Dukes. My personal concern this first year is to make sure I don't drop the ball on my beats, but as I get more comfortable I'll be able to branch out and help fill gaps in our coverage.]