Duquesne women's basketball off to quick start in post McConnell-Serio era

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 11:48 p.m.

Duquesne women's basketball coach Dan Burt truly believed his players could compete with Notre Dame.

That may sound nuts given Notre Dame consistently ranks among the top teams in the country, but Burt really thought the Dukes could hang in when they faced the Fighting Irish in Toronto the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

It was a 100-61 loss, and Burt later described the trip as very good except for the 40 minutes that they played Notre Dame. It wasn't all bad, though. Burt, a first-year coach and former top assistant of Suzie McConnell-Serio, said his team learned something about commitment from going head-to-head against the No. 5 team in the nation.

“Notre Dame was finishing their shootaround and we were coming on, and the last person they had to chase off was Kayla McBride, their best player, still getting up shots and working on her game,” the 42-year-old Burt said. “I think it was good for our kids to see that.”

In its first month of play under Burt, Duquesne is 6-3 following an 83-78 win over Providence on Thursday at A.J. Palumbo Center. An assistant at four schools beginning with West Virginia in 1998, Burt said the past few weeks have been kind of like drinking from a fire hose, but overall, it has been a smooth transition from McConnell-Serio, who took the top spot at Pitt.

“You're very busy delegating and prioritizing more so than when you're an assistant,” he said. “And when you're an assistant, you may have two or three managers, maybe a GA that you have under you and now I have a whole army. I don't get to recruit as much, there's a lot more on the court, a lot more practice planning and stuff like that. But because of the assistants I hired, my weaknesses are their strengths so that's really benefitted us.”

Losing McConnell-Serio was a blow at first. Senior Orsi Szecsi missed the meeting that day but when she answered a call from Wumi Agunbiade, her teammate was crying.

“When we all gathered together, we were like, ‘Now what?' ” Szecsi said.

Said Agunbiade: “But I think that helped unite us. We had to hold each other accountable for everything and I think it bonded us a lot more.”

Burt initially went down the road to Pitt with McConnell-Serio but was offered and accepted the Duquesne job two weeks later.

Now, the Dukes once more are focused on the goal that has eluded them the past two seasons despite their high expectations — making the NCAA Tournament.

“We're a lot more driven this year, especially Orsi and I as seniors,” Agunbiade said. “Before we ever got on campus we were talking about winning the Atlantic 10 championship and we have yet to accomplish that.

“It's either now or never, so we're driven.”

The Dukes have four players averaging double figures in scoring, led by 6-foot-1 senior guard Raegan Moore (18.4 ppg), a first-year starter. Agunbiade is averaging 14 points per game, Szecsi 10.8 and sophomore point guard April Robinson 10.4.

Szecsi registered just the second triple-double in Duquesne women's history against Morehead State on Nov. 24, and junior Jose-Ann Johnson, another first-year starter, had a double-double in the same game.

The Dukes also have gotten good minutes from junior Belma Nurkic, a former Baldwin standout, and freshman Angela Heintz of Seton-La Salle.

The Dukes now enter the part of the schedule where they face St. Francis (Pa.), Robert Morris, West Virginia and, in a highly anticipated matchup, Pitt.

“You're always looking forward to playing the local schools,” Burt said. “We certainly have good camaraderie and somewhat of a rivalry with those schools.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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