Pittsburgh, PA – Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt is always quick to compliment his coaches but following a 73-54 victory Wednesday night over Toledo, he offered another.
Duquesne’s coaches take turns scouting and Wednesday it was assistant Cherie Lea’s turn and for Burt the scout was “perfect”.
Lea previously served as Duquesne’s director of basketball operations before leaving to serve as the top assistant at Wingate University.
“When we had Cherie the first time, she was a young woman who the first time was ordering food, she was our director of basketball ops,” Burt said, “So for her to go away for two years and really get her coaching chops, to coach, be responsible for scouts, recruiting and other various on-floor activities. She needed to do that to move up. We were very fortunate to bring her back and she really fits her role really well. We’ve got a pretty good coaching staff.”
All and all a game against a top-35 RPI team proved to be another day in the office as Duquesne extended its season-best winning streak to six games.
“I feel really good tonight, that’s a complete game, a complete win right there,” said Burt. “We didn’t play a perfect game but we played a well-rounded game at both sides of the ball. That’s as complete as we’ve played.”
Toledo has proven itself to be a respected opponent and already this season defeated Atlantic 10 opponents Dayton and St. Bonaventure.
Though Toledo scouted Duquesne very well, Chassidy Omogrosso still scored 19 points and Julijana Vojinovic added 18 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Omogrosso offered an exclamation point of sorts in the third quarter driving on a fastbreak and making a lay-up through the foul. Omogrosso pumped both of her fists while on her back, her familiar smile flashing across her face.
“There was nothing different from any other time I am in transition but I know if I can be in transition then you figure you either try to draw the foul but regardless I’m just trying to get to the rim, finish and create contact to hopefully draw the foul too,” said Omogrosso.
Duquesne also got a boost from freshman guard Libby Bazelak who tied a career-high with 10 points.
“A lot of people say there are similarities between her and April Robinson,” Burt said. “I don’t want to put that kind of bullseye on her back because April Robinson is a hall of famer here. Libby is a very good basketball player who has to move on to the next play and she did. Toledo was going to make someone else beat us besides Juca and Chas. You can’t ask for a better night for a freshman point guard, she’s given us great depth.”
Kadri-Ann Lass flirted with an unconventional triple-double in this game with 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
It was a fact which brought a smile to both Lass and Chassidy Omogrosso’s face respectively and one thing is clear, the confidence with eluded the 6-foot-3 junior Estonian last season is starting to return.
“My confidence is definitely coming back more and more and my teammates and coaches are just helping me a lot with that,” Lass said. “They are supportive of me and I think we are in a good place right now. Tonight definitely helps my confidence but if I did that and we didn’t win the game, it would not help me. It’s still my whole team and that we’re very close.”
Lass came into the game tied with UMass’s Maggie Mulligan in blocks per game though Burt was surprised to hear that she amassed such a high block total.
“Kadri is going to set the blocks record this year as a junior and she’s going to put it way out of reach for anybody else that plays at Duquesne,” said Burt. “When you look at her she’s not an athletic jumping jack, but boy can she defend, get her hands high and wall up.”
Six in a row
Duquesne is well aware that it has not been a second-half team this season but Wednesday took a step towards changing that narrative outscoring Toledo in both quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Duquesne held Toledo to a 16.7% shooting clip from the field taking them out of their game.
“We’ve been settling and our second halves haven’t been there even though we won the past two,” Omogrosso said. “Our goal is to play a complete 40 minutes.”
With these six wins, Duquesne has found several ways to win games both at home and on the road, but one commonality sticks out.
“What is really carrying us over is how well we are playing together and our team chemistry on and off the court we’re best friends,” said Omogrosso. “We’re sharing the ball, talking on the court a lot more but overall we’re playing really hard.”
As far as how the locker room was after the game “really excited” and “better than the last two games” were the player responses.
Duquesne continues its homestand against Akron. The Dukes won a 67-57 contest at Akron last season.
Men win too
The Duquesne men’s basketball team is 4-3 on the season following a 73-59 win Wednesday night against Stetson. Here are five key points to take away from the victory.
1. Duquesne appears to have its starting five set in stone with roles beginning to establish themselves. The Dukes have started Chas Brown, Mike Lewis II, Rene Castro-Caneddy, Tydus Verhoeven and Eric Williams II.
The plan hit a small snag with Verhoeven getting into foul trouble for a second consecutive game and Dambrot said his freshman is getting into his own head instead of wearing a “rain jacket”.
Dambrot seems willing to stick with this lineup as it gives his team a better chance of winning.
“I just felt like it’s a little better defensively and we’re not going to get bullied,” he said. “I like Kellon Taylor off the bench because he doesn’t make many mistakes and he brings energy. I like Tarin (Smith) off the bench because he gives us juice and quickness as well. Jordan (Robinson) plays better off the bench it seems because of not being used to playing let alone starting so I feel he has relaxed better off the bench.
2. Tarin Smith gave himself a heck of a birthday present with 20 points on 7-12 shooting. For the second consecutive game, he dominated the middle portion of the second half. He celebrated his 22nd birthday by playing to his strength and within Dambrot’s system which drew praise from the first-year Duquesne coach.
3. Dambrot was pushing Eric Williams Jr and for good reason.
On one hand, Williams recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 16 rebounds, but defensively he was tasked with guarding Divine Myles, Stetson’s best player.
Williams was up for the task in the first half but allowed Rivers to get several open looks in the second half.
“Just to be up tight on my man and focused,” he said of Dambrot’s remarks. “That was their best player so he wanted me to guard. The first half was good, the second half I was getting tentative and he adjusted. He was a good coach, he stayed on me and cussed me out.”
Dambrot has always pushed his players for their benefit and ultimately the mindset of understanding what kind of effort is needed to consistently win games.
“I liked playing bigger guys on smaller guards because I think it’s a little harder to score on,” said Dambrot. “I think he was passive in the second half. He allowed the guy to get going a bit but we have to do better and it’s a good challenge that is an area on the ball that he needs to improve.”
So while Williams was a “maniac” in all other facets, well except for the free throw line, he is continued to be drilled on not as refined aspects in an effort to make him a more complete player.
4. I asked Dambrot how much of the playbook he thought his team had down and where that figure compared to his expectation upon hire and it took a while to get some semblance of a concrete answer.
Dambrot opened his answer by saying the defense is better than the offense which is clearly seen, but at the same time working on defense was a focal point during offseason practices.
Duquesne has also not had an opportunity to practice much with this stretch of six games in 15 days. Injuries certainly played a part in not being able to run full practices out of fear of another body down but now the team is much closer to full-strength and in the cases of Chas Brown and Kellon Taylor the entire playbook needs to be learned and with Brown’s injury and rust, there are sets he is having trouble running as he tries to shake the rust off.
In some sense this is still the beginning of the season, or at least it feels that way with all of the returning bodies, not to mention Marko Krivacevic participated in the pregame warmups, a sign that his return is close.
5. This is a point in the schedule where Duquesne has several consecutive teams that it should beat and thus far that mark is blemish-free at 2-0. Stetson represented the toughest of these teams and now Duquesne has a chance to be 8-3 before heading to Las Vegas. Regardless of the opponents, 8-3 is 8-3 and winning as many games as possible in this stretch is quite important.
Duquesne will host Delaware State Saturday at 12:30 p.m.