Duquesne women stunned by NCAA tournament

DUQUESNE WOMEN

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Watching at a private team party Monday night at Palumbo Center, Duquesne players held out hope until the very end of the NCAA tournament selection show that they would earn a spot in the field.

As each team card flipped over, they hoped that maybe that was the one that would read "Duquesne."

Once the final pairings were revealed, though, and it was 64 other teams experiencing the joy of seeing their name on that screen, reality set in.

"You could just hear a pin drop. It was just very quiet," Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.

"They literally got up and walked out. There's nothing you can say at that point."

The Dukes (23-7) entered Monday night with realistic hopes of earning the program's first NCAA tournament bid. Instead, they fell just on the wrong side of the bubble, and will instead move forward to play in their fifth consecutive Women's NIT.

McConnell-Serio pointed to a few missed chances down the stretch that likely could have locked up a bid for her team.

The Dukes lost back-to-back one-point games to Saint Joseph's (in overtime) and at Dayton, and fell to the Hawks again in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament quarterfinals.

The Hawks and Flyers were the only Atlantic 10 teams to earn spots in the field.

"We just realize and understand that our margin for error is very slim," McConnell-Serio said. "It almost comes down to, we have to win the conference tournament to get in. It's not like you can just have a great year and get in, which is unfortunate. The conference we're in, that's the way we're looked upon."

Still, looking at the totality of Duquesne's resume, it looked as if the Dukes had a strong case for inclusion in the field.

They beat tournament teams Liberty, West Virginia and Delaware (although the Blue Hens were without superstar Elena Delle Donne).

Ranked at No. 36 in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the Dukes were the only team in the top 40 not to make the tournament. Primarily for that reason, ESPN's Charlie Creme had the Dukes included as a No. 11 seed Sunday night in his final "Bracketology" prediction.

"I wasn't getting my hopes up, but then you hear people are telling you that," McConnell-Serio said. "Obviously, if he's giving us that respect, maybe the committee is giving us that sort of respect."

McConnell-Serio said she knew her team's chances were slim Monday night when she saw Kansas revealed as a No. 12 seed. The Jayhawks finished seventh in the Big 12 and were ranked No. 58 in RPI.

"Obviously, our conference isn't as respected as the major conferences across the board," McConnell-Serio said.

Now, McConnell-Serio faces the challenging task of turning around and preparing a "heartbroken" team for a WNIT game against Akron. The Dukes will play host to the Zips in the first round of the tournament Thursday.

"I certainly will try to put a positive spin on it," McConnell-Serio said. "You make it to the NCAA tournament, it could be a one-and-done situation. Now, we're in the WNIT, we have an opportunity to make a run and hopefully win some games."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @SWernerPG.


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