March 31, 2024 

A-10 postseason notebook: Saint Louis advances to WNIT Great 8

Saint Joseph’s and Duquesne see their seasons end

Six of the Atlantic 10’s 15 teams accepted a bid to a postseason tournament. As the final week of the postseason looms, Saint Louis is the last team still playing as they head to the WNIT Great 8.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

Last season, four of the five A-10 teams in WNIT won at least one game, with Rhode Island winning two games. This season, Saint Joseph’s was the only team (of three) to win a WBIT game. In the WNIT, Duquesne won one game and Saint Louis has won three so far.

Here are three storylines out of Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s and Duquesne’s most recent games:

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Peyton Kennedy leads Saint Louis to the WNIT’s Great 8

With the team’s 82-78 win over Purdue Fort Wayne on March 29, the Billikens earned their second trip to the WNIT’s final eight, after advancing to the third round in the 32-team WNIT in 2021. Saint Louis’ three postseason wins this season is also a program-best.

Senior forward Peyton Kennedy led the Billikens with 31 points, tying her career high. She has been key to the team’s postseason success, averaging 26.0 points per game in the team’s three WNIT games. 

“I think what’s so great to watch about Peyton right now is just her confidence soaring,” head coach Rebecca Tillett told The Next. “… [I]t’s all coming for her naturally. And her understanding that her teammates have to do their part in order for her to have those performances and every time you hear her interview, you hear that from her like my teammate gets me open on a curl cut. My teammate finds me on time.”

Kennedy did thank her teammates during the postgame interview on the ESPN+ broadcast. “My teammates believe in me, hit me where I need the ball, just working as a team cutting off of each other,” she said. “And it’s not just me that gets me open, it’s this entire team.”

Saint Louis has a lot of postseason experience. Kyla McMakin, Kennedy Calhoun, Isabel Tillett and Bri Johns won a Big South championship and a game in the NCAA Tournament at Longwood, before coming to Saint Louis where the team won an A-10 championship last season. Peyton Kennedy and graduate student Julia Martinez were also on the Saint Louis team that made it to the third round of the WNIT in 2021. 

“They’re a veteran group, so we’re able to make, adjustments in the game or to the practices and the schemes that might be more difficult with a group that was newer together,” Tillett said. “… [W]e finally have our best chemistry and we’re healthy. And you combine those two things with a veteran group that has tournament experience, and I think that’s what puts you in a position to have this type of success.”

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Kennedy and the rest of the team are playing for the seniors by just continuing what’s been working for the team. “We don’t want to have them go out and we want to win the WNIT … and we know, we can feel it, that we have an opportunity.” 

Saint Louis is scheduled to travel to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers on April 1 at 8 p.m. ET on B1G+. 

Saint Joseph’s looks to build on WBIT run next season

On Dec. 9, 2023, Saint Joseph’s defeated Villanova and ended a 7-game losing streak against the Wildcats. The Big 5 rivals met again 110 days later in the WBIT quarterfinals, with the Hawks falling 67-59 and finishing the season with a program-record 28 wins and six losses. 

“I thought our kids came and they fought really, really, really hard,” head coach Cindy Griffin said in the team’s postgame press conference. “I think we’ve left everything out on the floor. And that’s all I can ask for a team that’s gone 28-6, a pretty great season for these guys. For us. We wanted more, we wanted to be part of that final four and get the chance for a national championship. But the growth of this team over the course of the year has been phenomenal. And … you’re only as good as your last game. So we know that will fuel our offseason, and [we’ll] be even better next year.”

“28-6, I think is phenomenal. But in the end, we want more,” junior guard Mackenzie Smith added. 

Junior forward Talya Brugler said the team is ready to start its offseason workouts right away and will use how this season ended to motivate them to go further next season. “We’ve taken a lot of leaps forward, there’s no going back,” Brugler said. “Just knowing what we want, what our goals are as a team. And running through that, and just accomplishing those goals every day.”

Saint Joseph’s is expected to return three of its four double-digit scorers: Brugler, Smith and sophomore forward Laura Ziegler. This season, the Hawks relied heavily on their starters, but against Villanova, freshman guard Gabby Casey recorded 11 points off the bench. It was her first time scoring in double figures since Dec. 2, 2023, against North Florida.

“She’s a competitor, she’s a gamer. She’s a dawg…” Griffin said of Casey, with Brugler and Smith agreeing on the last point, echoing “She’s a dawg. “ Just the growth for her over the course of the year. She gave us so much energy, and she changes the game when she comes in. We’re expecting great things from her next year.” 

Order ‘Rare Gems’ and save 30%

Howard Megdal, founder and editor of The Next and The IX, released his next book on May 7, 2024. This deeply reported story follows four connected generations of women’s basketball pioneers, from Elvera “Peps” Neuman to Cheryl Reeve and from Lindsay Whalen to Sylvia Fowles and Paige Bueckers.

If you enjoy his coverage of women’s basketball every Wednesday at The IX, you will love “Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way for the WNBA.” Click the link below to order and enter MEGDAL30 at checkout.

WNIT run re-establishes the standard at Duquesne 

This year was the Dukes’ first postseason appearance since the 2017–18 season when the team advanced to the third round of the WNIT. The Dukes received a first-round bye in this season’s WNIT, defeated Monmouth in the second round and fell to Purdue 71-50 on March 28.

Though no one on the roster played in the postseason in a Duquesne uniform before this season, the team brought maturity and regular-season playing experience, with six 1,000-point scorers on the team. Head coach Dan Burt said the team wanted to fulfill its goal of playing in the postseason and wanted to play for one another. “The Purdue game was a homecoming game for Amaya Hamilton. And our kids gave it everything they had,” Burt told The Next on March 29. “Purdue played well last night. And we just didn’t have our A-game last night, we had a lot of open shots, and they just didn’t fall for us. But that didn’t — that loss was not reflective of our efforts throughout the whole entire season.”

Since joining Duquesne as an assistant coach in 2007 — before being named head coach in 2013 — Burt has been a part of 11 postseason appearances. “It reestablishes what our standard had been for a very long time,” Burt said. “… [A]nd what it does is it allows some kids who have never been in postseason play to understand what the rhythms are. Frankly, for my assistant coaches to understand what those rhythms are, and what we can do better for next year. And what we did well for this year in terms of how we prepared for the games and everything through our practices.”

Sophomore guard Jerni Kiaku entered the postseason averaging 6.1 points per game and scored 12 points against Monmouth and a season-high 19 points against Purdue, the first time this season she scored in double figures in consecutive games. “We were able to get Jerni Kiaku a lot of minutes and play her through some times of being tired,” Burt said. “And we saw the success that she had last night against Purdue and she’s going to be, certainly be a very big part of what our offense and our team next year will be.”

Burt described this season as the “most enjoyable” in his 27 years of coaching. “We’ve had more successful seasons, but I’ve never done it with such high character, high-quality individuals, and enjoying the process altogether,” he said. “This year was an incredibly fun, rewarding and great journey.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.