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Duquesne

Coach Dan Burt, Duquesne women's basketball embracing challenges, aiming high

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, 5:34 p.m.

Duquesne women's basketball coach Dan Burt wasn't handed a list of questions prior to sitting down with a reporter in his office this week.

Actually, the meeting interrupted something even bigger than basketball: his search for the best flight to Hungary, where he hopes to spend the holidays with his family during the team's nine-day break between games. Burt's wife, Kata, grew up there.

It was almost as if he expected the opening question, welcomed it. And he had an answer ready when he was asked, “Do you have the best basketball team in Pittsburgh?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “There's no hesitation there. Men or women. We are the best basketball program in Pittsburgh,”

Through the first month of this season, Burt is right. Duquesne (10-2) is the first among the six Division I teams (Duquesne, Pitt and Robert Morris men and women) to reach double-digit victories.

Also, the most ambitious. Two years ago, Burt sat in his office, got UConn coach Geno Auriemma on the phone and said, “You guys want a game?”

“Before I could say anything else, Geno said, ‘I'm in,' ” Burt recalls.

The game will be played Friday at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Why Toronto? Both teams have native Canadians on their rosters, and Burt said Toronto, with its diverse population, is “the second-most important place where we recruit (other than the WPIAL).”

UConn has won six of the past nine national championships and stands No. 1 this season by storming to an 9-0 start with an average margin of victory of more than 26 points. And, by the way, five of those games were against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

What does Burt expect from his team against UConn?

“To win,” he said. “And people won't believe that.

“When you drive to work every day, everyone daydreams a little bit. I daydream about beating Pitt and about beating UConn. We've done one of them a lot (four of the past five seasons). Now, we're going to see what we can do matching up against the best team in America.”

How far apart are the programs?

Auriemma won his 1,000th career game Tuesday night, beating Oklahoma, 88-64. Burt stands at 99 since ascending to the job in 2013.

“We're not going to get high school All-Americans here at Duquesne,” Burt said. “But we're going to get the best player from Estonia and the best player from Finland and the best player from Hungary in their age groups and then the best player from Beaver County, and we're going to roll the ball out there and see what we can do.”

Two years ago, a 28-victory Duquesne team played UConn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and lost 97-51. Burt will remind you that Duquesne was the only team to lead UConn during its six-game run to the national championship.

“And we had two leads (6-3 and 14-13 in the first quarter),” he said.

“I can't be Geno, and I'm never going to be Geno,” he said, “but I do try to read as much as I can about Geno and pick his brain when I see him on the road to figure out how to create my own culture here at Duquesne.”

What he has learned about UConn is how high Auriemma sets the bar.

“Every day, it's got to be a challenge,” he said. “Every day (in practice), they almost want to do the impossible ... you go confront your weaknesses and the things on the basketball court that scare you.

“We haven't gotten to that point. That's an exhausting task both on the players and coaches. I think that's something that takes time over years.”

Meanwhile, Burt will set his sights on an Atlantic 10 championship, armed with a team that knows how to score. Julijana Vojinovic and Chassidy Omogrosso (Blackhawk) are averaging 17.4 and 16.9 points, respectively, and the team is ranked 66th and in the top 20 percent in the nation in scoring (74.7 points). Duquesne's only losses are by three and four points to Charlotte and East Tennessee State.

“If the coach hadn't screwed it up, we'd be undefeated,” he said, pointing to the Dukes' 15-point lead in the fourth quarter against Charlotte.

Then, there's the chip Burt carries on his shoulder that grew there when conference coaches picked Duquesne to finish fourth.

“We'll be reminding our players of that on a daily basis,” he said.

How did Burt vote?

“I put us first because I think we are the best,” he said. “That may sound cocky, but I really believe in our kids. This could be a special year.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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