Duquesne women’s basketball shows strength, but not enough

Pat Higgins | The Duquesne Duke

After defeating Virginia Commonwealth University in the first round at the Atlantic-10 Tournament last Friday, the Duquesne women’s basketball team positioned themselves for a quarterfinal rematch with St. Joseph’s; a team they lost to by one point in an overtime thriller at the A.J. Palumbo Center earlier in the year.
This time, they found themselves 300 miles away from home, tipping off against the Hawks in their home arena in the second round of conference play.
The Red and Blue were not afforded the same luxuries as the host, because the Hawks, who boasted an identical in-conference record, won the tiebreaker with the regular season victory just over a month earlier and were awarded a first round bye. Not to mention, they didn’t have to leave campus to get to the game, playing in the friendly confines of the Hagan Arena, a building that can get awfully loud, especially with a larger home crowd on hand.
Though the Hawks led most of the game, the Dukes kept it close throughout and had opportunities to win down the stretch. Foul trouble and missed opportunities on the offensive end in the second half ultimately kept the team from advancing to the semifinals in this one, as the Dukes fell by a score of 73-60.
This being a shot at revenge against their in-state rivals on a much bigger stage, coach Suzie McConnell-Serio thought her team was well prepared the second time around heading into the game, and admitted that a lack of execution ultimately spelled the team’s demise Saturday afternoon.
“I think our players did a great job for the most part of understanding what we wanted to do,” she said. “Sometimes it wasn’t executed the way we wanted to but there was definitely a focus coming into today. I think this is a game they made more plays than we did. They outrebounded us. We had 17 offensive rebounds, but we just couldn’t capitalize.”
With less than 10 minutes to go, the Dukes found themselves in a similar position to the matchup earlier in the year, where they forced overtime in a game where they were down 9 with 4:36 to go. Facing a 56-44 deficit with 6:06 left in the second half, they were able to come within 7 points of the lead, but St. Joe’s found open shooters who sank a few back-breaking threes to thwart any attempt at a comeback.
The Dukes were missing sophomore guard Belma Nurkic, a key three-point shooter who re-injured her wrist in late 2012, for most of the game. She logged only nine minutes. In addition, point guards Vanessa Abel and April Robinson both found themselves in foul trouble late in the game and had to sit for extended periods in the second half.
The Dukes found ways to attack the basket and find open shots late, but at the end of the day, St. Joe’s found ways to make stops and score at the other end.
“Our defense is really making teams take time off the clock so that they don’t have an entire shot clock to execute their offense in the half court,” McConell-Serio said. “St. Joe’s is a team that is very good at executing their offenses. You give them a lot of time and they’ll pick you apart.”
This late in the season, the team that capitalizes in key moments in the final minutes finds the way to survive and advance to the next round. The Dukes competed to the end, but couldn’t find a way to even the score this time around.
That was the story according to McConell-Serio.
“They shot the ball well from the floor, in particular the three point line,” she said. “They made plays when they needed to. They hit timely threes. Every time we had a defensive breakdown they capitalized.”
A loss to St. Joe’s, another team entrapped in the mythical bracketology bubble, does not bode well for their chances to dance come Selection Sunday.
The key is to peak late in the season, and McConnell-Serio acknowledged her team took some time to get the wheels rolling.
“This time of year you have to be playing your best basketball and they seemed and we struggled to finish, especially early on, which really set the tone for the rest of the game,” McConnell-Serio said.