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Duquesne

Duquesne women's basketball craves Atlantic 10 title

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, 9:09 a.m.

When Duquesne women's coach Dan Burt criticizes his team — most of the time in private, occasionally with reporters present — he doesn't worry about hurting some players' sensibilities.

“They know I love 'em,” he said.

But he's not afraid to call out players and threaten to take away playing time, especially now that the Dukes (23-6, 13-3) are taking a No. 2 seed into the Atlantic 10 Tournament that opened Tuesday night on campus sites.

Duquesne will play No. 7 seed Saint Louis (16-14, 9-7) in the quarterfinals Friday in Richmond, Va.

Burt said his team's only road into the NCAA Tournament is to win three games in three days. Duquesne has reached the tournament championship game the past two years, losing both times.

“If anything, I'm a little too easy on them overall,” he said. “Some of them crave me being tougher.

“That's a weakness that I need to work on. For them to have the edge, I have to have a little bit more of an edge.”

Burt has not always been happy with his team's defensive effort this season, and going into the tournament he has vowed to sacrifice offense, if necessary. That could mean more minutes for freshmen defenders Amanda Kalin of Pine-Richland and Libby Bazelak and less for second-leading scorer, junior Julijana Vojinovic (15.9 points per game).

“You win in February and March with defense and scoring in the paint,” he said. “We have to have that ball pressure.”

He was especially critical after the 69-50 loss to Saint Joseph's on Feb. 10, but he said the message hit the mark. The Dukes won three of their next four games.

“We've been better. We're not perfect,” he said. “Just being a little grittier, a little nastier. I think my message had something to do with it. In the end, the kids have to take that and apply that to their play.”

Blackhawk's Chassidy Omogrosso, who leads the team with a 17-point-per-game average, appears to have no trouble handling her coach's prodding.

“I'm the type who wants to live up to his expectations,” he said. “Others might let it get to their head. You have to fight through that.”

Duquesne's margin for error is so small because the Dukes followed a 10-1 midseason stretch with a 3-2 finishing kick.

Burt said another factor will work against the Dukes when the tournament committee meets: They don't have many impressive victories.

Only four Atlantic 10 teams are in the top 100 of the RPI — Dayton (31), Duquesne (72), Fordham (73) and George Washington (96) — and the Dukes lost to Dayton and Fordham. Will early victories against Central Michigan (27), Virginia (34) and Toledo (63) be enough if the Dukes can't win the A-10? Probably not.

“If you can't do it, there's no second chance,” Burt said.

The Dukes' edge might be losing the past two conference title games. They've won the A-10 regular-season title and been to nine consecutive postseasons (NCAA in 2016). But Duquesne has not been able to conquer the conference tournament — that day-after-day-after-day stretch that tests a team's depth and players' resolve.

“We know it's not our birthright to make the conference championship, but we know we have something left that we haven't done,” Burt said.

“That's our biggest edge is that our juniors want to accomplish that and hang a different banner here in Palumbo.”

Here is what awaits the Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia and Robert Morris women's teams in their conference tournaments:

Pitt/ACC

Pitt, the 14th seed, will open the ACC women's tournament at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against No. 11 Wake Forest (13-16, 5-11) in Greensboro, N.C. Pitt (10-19, 2-14) lost to Wake Forest during the regular season 58-49 at Petersen Events Center.

Penn State/Big Ten

No. 11 Penn State's first game in the Big Ten Tournament is at 3:55 p.m. Wednesday against No. 14 Illinois (9-21, 0-16) in Indianapolis. Penn State (15-14, 6-10) beat visiting Illinois during the season 68-59.

WVU/Big 12

The Big 12 Tournament opens Friday in Oklahoma City, Okla. West Virginia (20-10, 8-10) is in sixth place in the 10-team league, but seedings have not been determined.

Robert Morris/Northeast

The Northeast Conference regular season is not complete, but Robert Morris (21-6, 14-2) will be either the first or second seed in the tournament. The Colonials will open at home March 7 against an opponent to be determined.

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

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