MILWAUKEE – If there is anything that Tuesday night’s 2017 Women’s Big East championship proved, it’s that NCAA women’s basketball is in no way, shape, or form inherently boring – and, of course, that anything can happen in March.
Basketball fans got exactly what they signed up for in the third and final meeting between the DePaul Blue Demons and the Marquette Golden Eagles. The lead changed hands 15 times in a fast-paced war between two high-octane offenses as the Golden Eagles upset the no.1 seeded Blue Demons 86-78 in an Al McGuire Center soaked the infamous madness of March.
“I’m thrilled our players got to play in this kind of environment, hostile as it might be – it’s what women’s basketball is all about,” head coach Doug Bruno said. “There’s a lot of people that have been working a long time to create environments like this.”
The wild atmosphere was indeed hostile for DePaul, and it seemed to get the best of Jessica January and Brooke Schulte in route to a combined 13-37 from the floor (35 percent). January did collect a personal tournament-high 23 points, but she and Schulte took over 50 percent of DePaul’s field goal attempts – many of which were ill-advised, as coach Bruno made clear with his demeanor on the sidelines.
Jessica January was named to the Big East all-conference team at the end of Tuesday’s championship loss, but the Senior point-guard seemed more concerned with falling short of a championship in her third title appearance.
“Obviously it’s an honor to be recognized on the team, but we came here to win the Big East championship,” January said.
January also added a game-high 7 assists.
The Blue Demons got behind early but kept the game close until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Marquette’s Natisha Hiedeman rained havoc from behind-the-arch in the first half, including a net-seeking missile from half-court to give the Golden Eagles a two-point advantage through 20 minutes. Heideman finished with 28 points and a perfect 10-10 showing at the foul line.
“Marquette is really good, and I believe they have been good all-year-long,” Bruno said. “You don’t beat Oregon State, Arizona State, and us (three times) without being good.”
Amarah Coleman was arguably the best offensive weapon for DePaul, shooting 66 percent from the floor, including an 83 percent clip from three-point range (5-6). Her shots from downtown stole the lead away from Marquette on three separate occasions, but her offensive production was overshadowed when she fouled-out with 1:27 seconds to play in the final quarter.
“Amarah hit the three in the first half, then she fell asleep on some second shots… and those are controllables,” Bruno said. “Stepping up in the big moment is not doing something you’re capable of, it’s doing what you should be doing all the time.”
Overall, the Blue Demon’s played championship caliber basketball, but Marquette’s energy – feeding off a clear home-court advantage – was enough to keep the regular season champs at bay.
“I tell my team all the time… it’s my job to get you shots, it’s your job to make shots,” Bruno said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we got some pretty good looks from some pretty good people that put us in a position to be the Big East regular season champs, so that’s what (we) tried to do.”
DePaul’s season won’t end with Tuesday’s loss, however. The Blue Demon’s resume will undoubtedly earn them a spot in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the month and will wait to be officially seeded on Monday, Mar. 13th.
“It hurts that we lost in this last game, but us seniors still want to make a run in the NCAA tournament and we still have a really good chance to play well,” January said. “So it’s time to turn the page and get some good practices in.”