Women’s basketball selected to 10th-consecutive NCAA tournament

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Selection Monday arrived and delivered the DePaul women’s basketball team something they have received for the past 10 years.

The Blue Demons were selected to their 10th-consecutive NCAA tournament Monday evening when the brackets were unveiled. As the seven-seed, they will play the 10th-seed Brigham Young Cougars Saturday at 5:30 p.m. central time at Allstate Arena.

There were a few moments of anxiety in the part of McGrath-Phillips Arena that was sectioned off for the celebration. The Chicago portion in the Des Moines region of the bracket was the last to be revealed by the selection show on ESPN. Just a few minutes before DePaul’s name showed up on the screen, the television signal even went out for a few seconds, heightening the tension.

“We were all looking around like, ‘We’re in, right?’ My hands were shaking a little bit,” junior and unanimous all-conference guard Anna Martin said about waiting to see DePaul’s matchup. “But we were confident that we were in. Just to see your name, we were ecstatic.”

Making the Big Dance was no small feat this season for the Blue Demons, who have been without five players, including preseason All-American Keisha Hampton, for most of the season.

They have played with eight active players and seven in the regular rotation, leading head coach Doug Bruno to nickname them the “Magnificent Seven.” Bruno asked the band leader of the “Screamin’ Demons” pep band to come up with a song to go with that nickname.

Deanna Ortiz, the lone senior who will play on Saturday, expressed great pride for the other seniors who will be on the sidelines.

“Even though they’re not playing, they’re just as excited because they’re still a part of the team,” Ortiz said about the group of seniors that include Hampton, Maureen Mulchrone and 2010-11 Big East Sixth Man of the Year Taylor Pikes. “I’m really excited to go out there and represent our senior class.”

The Blue Demons will have their hands full with BYU in a game that many analysts are calling the best game of the first round. The Cougars are 26-6 and 12-4 in West Coast Conference play. They won the WCC conference tournament by defeating Gonzaga in the championship game. The only common opponent between DePaul and BYU is Syracuse, who the Cougars beat 83-59 and defeated the Blue Demons 81-65.

Martin confessed to not knowing anything about BYU but expressed that, “obviously they have to be a great team to get where they are.”

Bruno did have some knowledge on his first round opponent.

“Sometimes I know nothing, sometimes I know a lot. Ironically, this time I know a lot,” Bruno said about the Cougars, admitting that he’s caught them on TV during the season. “They have great size and shoot the three extremely well. They’re an extremely proficient offensive unit. They’re a good offensive team and I like watching good offensive basketball teams.”

BYU leads the nation in assists per game (19.3) and are sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.22. Haley Steed leads the Cougars with 231 total assists and 7.2 assists per game. Kristen Riley is a 6-3 senior forward that leads BYU in scoring at 11.4 points per game and rebounds, grabbing eight boards a game.

The Cougars also have 6-7 center Jennifer Hamson who should provide a challenge for the DePaul frontcourt off the bench.

Bruno says the team is well-rested and ready for the tournament, even with finals looming for most of the players, a challenge not dealt with by most schools at this time of year. He also admitted that this is not a pure home game for his team.

“I’m thrilled that we get to play at home in Chicago,” Bruno said. “But we’ve been at the [Allstate] arena no more than anyone else. We’re getting a neutral venue, but at least it’s in Chicago.”

There was also a future Blue Demon in the crowd. Megan Podkowa, a highly-touted recruit that signed to play for DePaul next year, came on her own to watch the selection show with the team.

Bruno, along with athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto, spoke to the crowd in the gym and thanked the band, cheerleaders, dance team, pep band and anyone else they could think of. Then Bruno made one last plea.

“I know it will be St. Patrick’s Day, but wait until around seven o’clock to celebrate.”