Women’s basketball wins third straight Big East regular season title

Women’s basketball celebrated their third straight Big East title Friday night with a win over Providence. (Connor O'Keefe / The DePaulia)
Women’s basketball celebrated their third straight Big East title Friday night with a win over Providence. (Connor O’Keefe / The DePaulia)

The third straight Big East regular season title for DePaul women’s basketball came on the road Friday night, in a game in which they easily dispatched Providence. It was a longtime coming, as DePaul had distanced itself from the other contenders for the title and were able to clinch the title with two games to go.

“I’m very excited for the players because winning a regular season conference championship is the second hardest thing to do in college basketball,” head coach Doug Bruno said, the hardest being winning the NCAA tournament. “It’s an 18-game marathon. It’s not a three or four game postseason sprint.”

The Blue Demons clinched at least a share of the title when they defeated Butler on Senior Day on Feb.  14, which also guaranteed them the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament. Their schedule has them closing out the season with three straight road games, in which DePaul looked to accomplish two things: the first was to clinch the Big East title — which they did against Providence — and the second was to continue to build up their résumé for the postseason.

“I know that we have a lot more that we have to accomplish and that we want to accomplish,” senior guard Chanise Jenkins said after the game against Butler.

The chase for an NCAA tournament berth is what drives the Blue Demons in the final week of the regular season. They have built up a profile that includes a strong strength of schedule and a regular season conference title, but a loss in their final stretch could derail their plans.

“These games are very important because they have major impact on NCAA seeding possibilities,” Bruno said. “I don’t want to presume we’re in the tournament, so if we are able to earn out way into the NCAA, this isn’t like professional sports. Every game has impact.”

DePaul taking the games seriously paid dividends, as they ran through Providence on Friday and followed it up with a win against Creighton in Omaha on Sunday for another road win. With one more game remaining — a matchup with Marquette in Milwaukee on Saturday — DePaul could possibly head into the Big East tournament with a seven-game winning streak. It speaks to the consistency of the program over the past few seasons.

“The consistency is huge, and it really speaks about what (Bruno) does for the program here,” senior forward Megan Podkowa said after Senior Day. “Knowing that you’re coming into a program with a coach who has won three consecutive titles is a great feeling.”

The Blue Demons will host the Big East tournament at McGrath Phillips Arena March 6-9. They have won the past two seasons and, as the No. 1 seed, will be the favorites to win it again, this time on their home court.

“There’s been a standard that we want to win the Big East regular season title, win the Big East tournament, and advance in the NCAA tournament,” Bruno said. “I think that’s a standard that’s been here for a long time.”

The Blue Demons have been inching closer to advancing in the NCAA tournament beyond what they have done in the past. They advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013-14 and followed that up with a round of 32 appearance in 2014-15, and could make the tournament against this year.