New look WBB finding footing in non-conference play

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Duquesne gathers for a huddle during the team’s season opener against Kent State.
Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Duquesne gathers for a huddle during the team’s season opener against Kent State.

David Borne | Sports Editor

Nov. 14, 2019

While the roster has changed quite a bit and so has the logo on their uniforms, expectations for Duquesne’s women’s basketball program have remained the same.

The bar is set high and head Coach Dan Burt hopes to turn heads in the Atlantic 10 once again.

The inexperienced Dukes squad has dealt with mild early season growing pains and has shown there is work to be done. However, a win in the team’s most recent outing showed that things may be coming together for the young group.

A 76-65 victory last weekend at Manhattan gave the team its first of the season and improved its record to 1-2 on the year. Through three games on the year, Burt has liked what his team has shown offensively.

His group has answered any questions about how their offensive would fare this season, as it’s averaging just over 74 points per game to start the year. The junior guard duo of Libby Bazelak and Amanda Kalin has led the way on the attacking end of the court.

Bazelak has posted a team-high 16.7 points per game, with Kalin behind her at 12.3 ppg.

Bazelak and Kalin impressed in their first two seasons on the Bluff and have excelled in their expanded roles to start the 2019-20 campaign.

Their upbeat offensive approach gives Duquesne’s attack quite a different look than it has had in recent years.

They have also proven their ability to make an impact on the defensive end. The well-rounded skill set of both guards has generated plenty of opportunities for the pair and opens others for those around them.

“We are playing at a faster pace in the past. Our primary break is looser and allows for greater freedom for our players to make their own decisions with and without the ball,” Burt said. “[Bazelak and Kalin] are very good passers and can score at all three levels,”

“They are also excellent defenders. So, when you have two guards who can score, pass and defend, you have the beginnings of a very good backcourt. We are lucky to have them.”

Though Duquesne’s offense has impressed so far, Burt is still looking for more on defense from the team as a whole.

So far this season, the Dukes have allowed an average of 75.7 points per game. Additionally, opposing teams are shooting 43.9% from three-point range.

“We have not advanced very much defensively,” Burt said. “We are working daily to find what works for us. We played zone in the third quarter against Manhattan, holding them to one bucket, so we will explore more zone. It’s comminuted growth, learning and adjusting to who we will play all year long.”

Laia Sole, and Paige Cannon and Angela Staffileno have locked down the majority of Duquesne’s minutes in the post. Precious Johnson, a freshman center from Sweden, has also seen limited time.

Each of the bigs contributes different a different set of strengths, which allows Burt and his staff to get creative with lineups.

Sole is the most offensively talented of the group, and leads the post players in scoring (11.7 ppg). Staffileno is an efficient scorer from inside and out, and posted a career-high 17 points in the team’s win over Manhattan.

Burt refers to Cannon as the “glue” of the team, as she is Duquesne’s defensive leader and has the ability to knock down a jump shot.

Nina Aho, Anie-Pier Samson and Amaya Hamilton round out the Dukes’ rotation.

Aho has been plagued with injuries during her time on the Bluff and was limited to just five games last season. Now healthy, her play remains an important key to success this season for Duquesne.

Samson is coming off of her redshirt season and is playing consistent minutes for the first time since her collegiate career began in 2016.

The primary focus during her sit-out year was to expand her basketball IQ off of the ball and defensively. So far, the 6’2” guard has improvements in those areas.

Now, Burt anticipates that she can take the next step and become one of the team’s most dangerous scorers.

“She has done a solid job of moving without the ball on offense and has kept people in front of her on the defensive end,” Burt said. “Her best minutes are ahead of her. Once she is a little more comfortable, and I expect that to be soon, she can become a primary scorer for us.”

With games against Iona and Lafayette this weekend, Burt hopes the team can limit defensive lapses. He is also looking for more of an effort to pursue loose balls and pull down long rebounds.

Burt knows that it may take time for his time to tighten up its loose ends. However, he remains confident that the group will be ready to go by Atlantic 10 play.

“The good thing is, all of these things are fixable and this years group is eager to learn, grow and get better every day in practice,” Burt said. “When you lose almost 4,000 points and a ton of minutes, you are going to be a work in progress the next year and that’s us right now. I am really enjoying this team and look forward to seeing their growth. We will certainly be a different team in January.”