Tourney Run: Women look to break a streak of early exits

Four straight years. Four consecutive first-round exits from the NCAA tournament for the DePaul women’s basketball team. Not exactly the finish players were looking for.”Having been here for five years, we’re all, I want to say, a little sick of the endings the past four years,” said senior point guard Sam Quigley.

But there are signs of hope.

The team finished the year with a 26-5 record, their best-ever regular season performance. However, two of those losses came just as their regular season was finishing up-a 68-55 drubbing at Louisville on Feb. 23, followed up three days later by a 60-53 defeat at No. 24/22 Marquette.

Those two losses were sandwiched between two wins over ranked teams. First, a dominant 82-57 victory over Georgetown and then a close game against No. 8/7 Notre Dame, when Felicia Chester’s bucket with five seconds left gave DePaul a 70-69 win to close out the regular season. Not only did the final win help their record, but it also boosted the team’s confidence after the back-to-back losses, according to Head Coach Dough Bruno.

“They’ve had a great season and you go and lose a couple ball games. Within eight days we beat No. 18 Georgetown by 25 and turn around and lose at Louisville, lose at Marquette,” Bruno said. “And those are good teams that we lost to. It’s not like they’re embarrassing losses, but our collective psyches were very much brought back to health I think with the Notre Dame victory.”

Quigley also felt like the game served as a mental remedy.

“That was definitely big to get that win against Notre Dame,” Quigley said. “We were kind of, I think a few of us were a little unsure of ourselves after those two losses, but coming back with Notre Dame was definitely big and they’re a great team so it got us prepared, I think, for the Big East tournament.”

Bruno said he is expecting the matches to become a game of the last two minutes, when things like defense and rebounding become more important, points he has hammered into his players all season.

“If we defend and rebound at the end of a game then we can play as far as we want to into March,” said Keisha Hampton, who credited much of the season’s success to Bruno’s insistence.

While the team remained undefeated with a 17-0 record at home, all five losses this season came on the road. And the postseason tournaments will take the team far from the McGrath-Phillips Arena.

“One of the biggest things Coach has been talking about is taking our show on the road,” Quigley said. “We’re really good in this gym, but that was our last game last Monday here [against Notre Dame]. So that’s a big thing, becoming competitive on someone else’s court.”

A year ago at this time, the women were unsure if they would even make the tournament. This year it’s not a matter of if, but where they will be seeded.

“I think the only difference is that we know we’re in this year, but we’re still not satisfied with that,” said Keisha Hampton. “We still want to play our hardest to advance in the tournament and last year we had to fight our way into the tournament.”

Though the team is maintaining a strict one game at a time mentality, Bruno said that by finishing within the top four in the Big East, the best league in the country in his opinion, a team has the potential to be a top four team in the NCAA.

“That’s how difficult the difficulty is in the Big East and I think our players understand this,” Bruno said. “So I think, because of their experience, I think they really are a focused bunch.”

Rather than worrying about where they will eventually be seeded, Bruno said the team will simply take what seed they get and just “go play ball.”

“I think that’s pretty clear that UConn, Tennessee, Baylor and Stanford are the four No. 1s, not necessarily in that order,” Bruno said. “But then when you go five down through 20.there’s just a lot of range, a lot of different places that it really can go. So it’s really just too difficult to try to over-think this.”

Whatever number they end up next to on the bracket, it is hard to argue with the results. But a polished regular season would not mean much if the team were to suffer a fifth consecutive first-round exit

“It’s the best season we’ve had so far,” Hampton said, “but we’re never satisfied.