Pitt/Duquesne Women: Upstart Dukes boost program
Duquesne's Diana Voynova emerges from the pack with the ball yesterday in the Dukes' upset of No. 20 Pitt at the Petersen Events Center. Voynova had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
There likely hasn't been a bigger win for Suzie McConnell-Serio than yesterday's vs. Pitt.
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The Duquesne women's basketball team took a first step toward national respectability last season by winning 20 games for the first time and earning a trip to the WNIT -- the Dukes' first postseason appearance.
But even that edition of the Dukes -- or any other edition for the past 15 seasons, for that matter -- couldn't pull off what the current edition did yesterday: beat a ranked opponent.
Making matters even sweeter for the Dukes, however, is they did it on the road against their biggest rival -- 20th-ranked Pitt.
"This is obviously a huge win for us, for our program and for these players," said Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio after the Dukes' 72-63 win against the Panthers before 3,018 spectators at the Petersen Events Center.
"Early in the season, we played West Virginia and we didn't even compete. But I saw a difference in our players after coming back from Christmas break. They came back with an extra bounce in their step and an energy."
"We're not a top-25 program yet, but, hopefully, this gives us the confidence that we can play and compete with the top teams."
The victory by the Dukes (10-4) snapped a four-game losing streak to the Panthers (10-2) and improved their overall record in the series to 9-19. It was Duquesne's first win against a ranked team since Jan. 8, 1994, when the Dukes upset George Washington, 57-56.
Yesterday's victory was no fluke. Duquesne outhustled Pitt from the start, seemed to get every loose ball and despite a huge disadvantage in size was only outrebounded by six: 54-48.
Pitt coach Agnus Berenato acknowledged that Duquesne played better and with more of a sense of urgency and deserved to win. She also voiced some frustrations with her team's continued struggles on offense.
"I tip my cap to Duquesne, they earned this win and it was a great win by them because I thought they played extremely well," Berenato said.
"Right now, we are a work in progress. We're struggling and we have to find a leader, somebody needs to step forward and take control of things out there because we're just inconsistent.
"We were tentative, we settled for jump shots, and I can keep talking to them about driving and getting to the basket, but I'm not out there on the court. They have to do it. And if they don't, we'll continue to struggle."
Pitt actually got off to a fairly good start. The score was tied, 17-17, with 10 minutes to play in the first half, and the Panthers appeared to be getting ready to make a run
But Duquesne packed the key with a zone defense, thus forcing the Panthers to shoot from outside. The Dukes' hustle and hard work paid big dividends down the stretch as they finished the half on a 19-9 run to lead, 36-26, at the half.
The Dukes' dominance continued after intermission and they maintained an 8- to 12-point lead throughout the second half, even pushing it to as high as 20.
Pitt did turn up its full-court pressure and make one run at the Dukes to cut the lead to 65-59 with 1:05 to play, but it was too little, too late as the Dukes put the game away by making late free throws.
"In the first half, we didn't have the intensity we had at the end of the game," Pitt's Shayla Scott said. "If we had that [at the beginning], it would have changed the whole entire game."
Duquesne had a balanced attack, with five players scoring in double figures. Vanessa Abel led the Dukes with 17 points, while Taneisha Harrison led Pitt with 17 and Chelsea Cole had six points and 21 rebounds.
First Published December 30, 2009 12:00 am