Duquesne women's basketball team keep focus on its ultimate goal

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According to Duquesne senior guard Raegan Moore, those four letters will come up at least once every practice: NCAA.

As in the big tournament at the end of the season. The same one the Dukes were painfully close to earning a bid to last year only to be shut out on Selection Monday.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Duquesne (16-6, 8-1 Atlantic 10) vs. George Washington (15-7, 6-3), 7 p.m. today, Palumbo Center.

Internet: GoDuquesne.com.

Duquesne: Coming off 55-45 win Saturday at Richmond. ... Has won seven games in a row and eight of its past nine. ... Guard Raegan Moore leads the team with 15.6 points per game. Forward Wumi Agunbiade averages 15.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. ... Received votes in the USA Today coaches poll for first time since Dec. 25, 2012.

George Washington: Coming off 83-68 win Saturday against Rhode Island. ... Leading scorer Megan Nipe averages 15.4 points per game. ... Picked to finish fifth in A-10 preseason poll. ... Sophomore Jonquel Jones was named A-10 player of the week last week after averaging 18.5 points and 11.0 rebounds in two games.

Hidden stat:  Duquesne is 14-0 this season when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent.

"I think for us seniors especially, that's one of the things that's driving us in the back of our heads every day," Moore said. "When we don't want to do a drill, we don't want to run, we're just thinking this is your last time, give it your all to try and get to that NCAA tournament."

Early this season, it looked as if that might be an uphill battle under first-year coach Dan Burt, who took over after Suzie McConnell-Serio left for Pitt.

But the Dukes (16-6, 8-1 Atlantic 10) have hit their stride the past month and head into the game tonight against George Washington as winners of their past seven and in first place in the conference.

"I wouldn't say that we lacked focus [early in the season,]" Burt said. "We didn't shoot the ball and we didn't execute well. I think sometimes we try to internalize things and try to get too deep into what it could be when it's just that we missed a lot of easy shots and didn't capitalize on things that we are doing now. It just comes down to that."

Burt also pointed to an improved defense. After giving up an average of 69.1 points per game in non-conference games, the Dukes have held league opponents to 55.3 points per contest.

Senior forward Wumi Agunbiade, who averages 15.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, admitted it took a bit of time to adapt to the new coaching staff. "We all had to get used to the system and buy into what they were preaching to us. Thus far, we have and we still have a lot of room to improve."

While it might have taken some players a while to grow accustomed to the new staff, no player has seized the opportunity of a fresh start more than Moore. She leads the Dukes with 15.6 points per game after averaging 1.7 last year.

"I think when you have a kid with that kind of talent and athletic ability, and she's got confidence and she knows that her coaching staff -- all of her coaches -- believe in her, I think that really benefited her," Burt said.

Moore can sense the increased confidence from the coaching staff and said it has translated to improved performance.

"It makes you play freer, if that makes sense," she said. "You're not as scared of making a mistake, so, when you go in, you just kind of play within yourself. You know what you're capable of and you know if you make a mistake you're not going to get pulled out right away."

Moore and the Dukes have a long way to go before avenging the perceived snub from the NCAA tournament committee last year, but they took a seemingly positive step Tuesday when they received three votes in the latest USA Today coaches poll. When Burt told the team, he was greeted with blank faces.

"That means nothing to them," he said. "We'll take care of business by just winning games."


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

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