Plenty of new challenges for DePaul women’s basketball in Notre Dame rematch

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SOUTH BEND — The last time DePaul women’s basketball and Notre Dame faced off on Dec. 10, the Blue Demons suffered one of their most devastating losses of the season. DePaul went 3-for-10 from the free throw line in overtime to lose 94-93. The Blue Demons even led 93-92 with five seconds left before Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd hit two free throws to give her team the edge.

“If purgatory really exists, I think I got five years worked off for that game,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said, drawing a laugh.

The loss stung, but DePaul will have its chance for revenge Sunday as the two teams face off at 8 p.m. in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

But unlike the first meeting, the Blue Demons face numerous new challenges against the Fighting Irish, including playing them on their home-court of Purcell Pavilion — a place where they are an astonishing 65-3 since the start of the 2011-12 season.

“It’s a formidable task before you even look at the rosters,” Bruno said.
“There’s a reason why they’re No. 2 (in the country) and a No. 1 (seed). They’re a really special team, and we’re going to have our hands full. It’s going to be a major league upset.”

Looking at the rosters, however, Notre Dame has a key addition who didn’t play in the first meeting. Forward Brianna Turner, who missed the first meeting with a shoulder injury, is the leading candidate for Freshman of the Year and leads the nation in field goal percentage, making 66.5 percent of her shots.

The Blue Demons, of course, are without Megan Rogowski as well, who played in the first meeting and later tore her ACL in January.

“I thought Doug has done a phenomenal job of adjusting without Megan Rogowski, and they haven’t missed a beat scoring wise,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Briana gives us inside scoring and rebounding, which is always important. I think we have a little bit of a size advantage now. Last time we played them, we played four guards against them.”

DePaul forward Megan Podkowa has had to go against the opposing team’s biggest player all season long. After going against Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B., Podkowa said that containing Turner will be similar to how the Blue Demons contained Zahui B.

“(Tuner) is very tall,” Podkowa said. “She gets a lot of offensive rebounds so I think we are going to have to be able to get back with her on defense and keep her off of the boards. The guards did a really good job yesterday of not allowing the ball to get into Zahui B. as often as they could have so I think there will be a lot of pressure from the guards on the ball to help prevent the ball from getting into Turner.”

Notre Dame’s size advantage goes beyond Turner too. The Fighting Irish have forward Taya Reimer, who averages 10 points per game, and forward Kathryn Westbeld, who is a solid force off the bench.

“Minnesota had one really big player,” Bruno said. “Notre Dame has multiple big players, with at least two always being on the floor. It’s handling them and being able to defend two big players down in the paint.”

And perhaps the biggest test for DePaul will be containing Loyd. The senior scored a career-high 41 points. She and DePaul guard Brittany Hrynko each had a spectacular game, with Hrynko putting up 32.

Despite going up against Hrynko again, Loyd stressed it is a team game. That being said, she did acknowledge that she was excited to play DePaul again.

“It’s March Madness, of course you get excited,” Loyd said. “You play with a lot of passion, and we’re playing at home. But that was last season. It’s a new season.”

Both teams said that they’ve grown since the first meeting, pointing to better on the court chemistry and improved communication. Players on both teams said that defense would be the key to victory as well.

But as they focus for meeting in the rematch, the former Big East rivals are ready to see each other once again.

“It’s a rivalry game,” DePaul guard Chanise Jenkins said. “We are crosstown rivals and we are always close to each other, but at the same time, a rivalry makes you want to play even better. It just brings a lot more energy to the table and we’re never going to forget that.


“Of course, Notre Dame knows it’s a rivalry and all it’s about now is survive and advance, so we’re just going to play our best game tomorrow.”