Richmond, VA — For just a few seconds, Duquesne women’s basketball junior guard Chassidy Omogrosso’s infamous smile was replaced with a steely look of determination.
At the Palumbo Center, there are banners for the team’s accomplishments but one space remains vacant.
Duquesne has yet to win an Atlantic 10 Championship, having finished as runners-up in each of the past two seasons.
“We have talked about it every day since last year,” Omogrosso said. “Ever since we lost, both myself and my fellow juniors have said we’re 0-for-2. That’s not where we want to be. I want to end this at least going 2-for-4. That’s my goal.”
According to coach Dan Burt, if Duquesne wants to return to the NCAA Tournament, earning that elusive banner would be the only way since there is otherwise no chance to make it as an at-large selection.
Duquesne begins its quest for history 4:30 p.m Friday at the Atlantic 10 Championships with a quarterfinal contest against Saint Louis.
“Somebody’s got to do it, why not us,” Burt asked. “I’ve started to get this perception with the outside noise where I feel we’ve gone from being appreciated, to being 23-6, why aren’t you 24-5 or 25-3? That’s a very good thing but the external noise of people that aren’t in our group of 25 coaches or players need to understand that 23-6 is a really good year. We’ve had a good year, I wouldn’t say it has been a great year, we have to add a banner and to do that we have to add three in a row.”
Duquesne will be coming in after its first week-long break since the beginning of January, a privilege which was earned after securing the second seed and final first-round bye of the championship.
“I was okay with us playing Tuesday if need be, but in hindsight I am glad we were off,” said Burt. “We did not play well in the first half at Bonaventure, we had not practiced well, we looked tired, more mentally than anything. We took two days off, everybody yesterday got a message, players only and I think we’re going to have much better focused and be ready to go for what we around about to face in Richmond.”
Saint Louis earned its spot in this game with a 70-64 win against Massachusetts in which the Billikens came back from 16 points down at its home gym.
Duquesne was able to contain Saint Louis’s starters including holding Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team senior guard Jackie Kemph to two points.
Following Duquesne’s win Saturday, Burt noted the team had a lot of success freelancing plays in the second half when the determining charge was made to emerge victorious.
Whether this will affect Friday’s playbook remains to be seen but doing this requires a careful balance.
“Saint Louis we will be running a lot of sets, we may be able to get out in transition and do some things from a freelance perspective,” Burt said. “That’s a game-by-game feel almost. We should have done it more against Fordham and we didn’t and we learned a lot from that.”
If there is one thing that is for certain, it is that Burt will be less forgiving when a mistake is made. That treatment will be given to everyone on the roster and shows the sense of urgency the championship provides.
The potential of playing three games in three days is a delicate balancing act as you do not want to place too much of a burden on your starters but at the same time avoid a loss while playing polished basketball.
Duquesne is confident in its bench both in quantity and quality.
“Amanda (Kalin) will be critical to our success in Richmond,” said Burt. “We’re going to do a few different things strategy wise at the end of quarters with her and how hard she defends and how physical she is. Being able to play three games in three days doesn’t lend itself well to a team that mainly has seven players that it plays, we are 10 deep and frankly playing Saint Louis, we may utilize Judith Sole because they have a big kid that hurt us at Saint Louis and we’ll put Judi in there.”
One thing Duquesne will be looking to get back to is its quick starts. Duquesne has had to play from behind on a few occasions. Burt has spent countless time studying video at the kitchen table and even the hot tub and believes he has found the answer.
“There’s some answers there,” he said. “One of the big things was teams we’ve played later have been really well coached and do a great job of scouting us. We have not been able to counteract that, so we might have to throw a few wrinkles in to hopefully start faster. The wrinkles are the edge. You don’t win with plays in March, you win with great effort. Wrinkles are simple false actions before you get into your play. UConn is the absolute best at false action at the free throw line. From a defensive perspective, we may throw a wrinkle or two in if we find something different.”
Should Duquesne win Friday, it would face either third-seeded Fordham or sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s Saturday in the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals.
Atlantic 10 Awards
Three Duquesne Dukes received recognition from the Atlantic 10 based on regular season play as voted upon by the conference coaches.
Chassidy Omogrosso made the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team scoring 17.0 points per game, shot 43.8% from the field and 40.4% on her three-point shots.
Julijana Vojinovic was an Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team selection averaging 15.9 points per game, a 43% shooting clip from the field and 42.5% from three.
Kadri-Ann Lass made the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team with her 93 total blocks, which is the highest single-season total in Duquesne history. Her 207 career block total also represents a program high.