It became apparent early in the first half that junior forward Megan Podkowa was going to be the one that No. 2 DePaul would rely on down the stretch as they faced No. 3 Villanova in the Big East semifinals. Her 22 points and ten rebounds played a large part in the slow-tempo game that saw DePaul squeak out a 58-55 victory over the Wildcats.
“I’m definitely trying to be more aggressive with every game,” Podkowa said. “Like Coach Bruno said, all the guards did a great of getting me the ball. They found me on the three, found me inside, so I have to credit it all to the guards.”
The Blue Demons played a style more akin to Villanova’s slow-tempo offense, which drifted away from their normal, fast paced style of defense.
“We can get them into our tempo, but to get them into our tempo, I have to give up some things that I don’t want to give up in playing against them,” head coach Doug Bruno said. ” “So we’ve been playing them this way since we got into the Big East, and it doesn’t give our fans the 80‑ and 90‑point game, but it does give them a little bit of drama, especially the way we finished tonight.”
Both teams had trouble scoring in the first half. DePaul was not able to get outside shots to fall, despite earning some open looks and the Wildcats were not able to capitalize on the missed chances from DePaul on the other end. The Blue Demons shot 2-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, although the Wildcats were not much better as they shot 2-8. Because of this, neither side was able to score enough points to manufacture any separation from the other, which led to a tight game all half. At the break, DePaul led only 25-21.
In the second half, DePaul pulled away for a bit and was up by as many as seven at one point, but the Wildcats inched right back in and were within four with just over a minute to go. After Coyer went down the floor and hit a bucket 29 seconds to go, they fouled senior guard Brittany Hrynko and sent her to the line for a one-and-one with 21 seconds. She hit the first shot but missed the second, which gave Villanova a possession to tie it.
However, the Wildcats could not convert a three-point attempt in their final seconds with the ball, although they had two attempts during the possession. Lauren Buford’s last second heave at the buzzer, went wide, ending the game in favor of DePaul 58-55.
It was the second time in a row that DePaul had earned a berth in the Big East finals after they won the tournament in 2014.
“Just having the experience, I guess, is good for us,” senior guard Brittany Hrynko said. “But at the same time we can’t just come into the game just thinking we’re going to win. We have to come in with the same energy and just keep playing hard.”
Standing in their way will be No. 1 Seton Hall, whom DePaul shared a regular season conference title with this season, despite losing twice to the Pirates.
“Us and Seton Hall both had tough games, so both our legs are going to be tired,” Hrynko said. “But it’s just a matter of coming in ready to play.”
“We should be prepared for it based on the schedule that we play,” Bruno said. “Winning three times in a row is something that isn’t standard. You know how gassed everybody is, everybody is playing on fumes tomorrow night, but it’s the same for both teams.”
That game will be at 7 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 2.