Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said she does not talk about it with her players, but it is no secret the Atlantic 10 tournament, which begins today, is make-or-break for the Dukes.
A strong run, especially one including an upset or two, most likely would solidify Duquesne's first NCAA tournament bid in program history.
An upset loss in the first round, though, could cost the Dukes a spot in the field.
Duquesne opens tournament play at 2:30 P.M. today against VCU in Philadelphia.
"Our focus has been on VCU," McConnell-Serio said, dismissing any notion of looking ahead. "This is a dangerous team that plays a 2-3 zone. They trap out of it, they extend it, they're active, they're athletic, they're long. They create problems."
The Dukes won, 73-51, Jan. 23 at VCU, but McConnell-Serio said the Rams have improved a lot since that meeting.
"It's a team that, in my mind, is playing very well late in the season," she said. "They have gotten a lot better. They have players that are healthy. I think this team is very dangerous."
The Dukes were led in that victory against VCU by sophomore guard Belma Nurkic, who made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored 18 points.
In the 10 games since, Nurkic is just 4 of 30 from long range. McConnell-Serio said it is important that someone on the team is able to hit outside shots to open up VCU's zone defense.
"It's huge for us to have players that are able to knock down shots to extend [the zone], be able to open it up inside," she said. "We need contributions from a lot of different people."
Duquesne will get a boost with the return of junior Orsi Szecsi, who missed the past four games with a shoulder injury. Szecsi averages 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
"She brings us height," senior guard Jocelyn Floyd said of the 6-foot-3 Szecsi. "She's a really good rebounder and a really good shooter. We get one of our shooters back."
If the Dukes get past VCU, they face Saint Joseph's Saturday in the quarterfinals. Duquesne lost a heartbreaker to the Hawks in overtime earlier this season at Palumbo Center.
Though McConnell-Serio said it is not a focus, she admitted her players probably know what is at stake heading into this weekend. ESPN.com's women's "Bracketology" lists the Dukes as one of the last four teams in the NCAA tournament field, and a subpar showing this weekend could easily send them tumbling out.
"In the [tournament] games, we just know that this is the difference between us making the WNIT and the NCAA tournament," Floyd said. "We're just really focused on this tournament and focused on making the next tournament."
NOTE -- Floyd was named the Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year Thursday in a vote by the league's 16 coaches. She is the school's all-time leader in steals, and leads Division I in the category this year with 5.1 per game. Junior forward Wumi Agunbiade was named first-team all-conference, and freshman point guard April Robinson made the league's all-rookie team.mobilehome - duquesnesports
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.