DePaul win in the Cards: Blue Demons endure late comeback, defeat No. 11/10 Louisville

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In front of a boisterous crowd at a packed McGrath-Phillips Arena Saturday evening, the DePaul women’s basketball team almost let its Big East opening matchup against Louisville slip away.

 But an early second half lead was enough to keep the Blue Demons ahead until the final buzzer, giving them an 86-80 win over the No. 11/10 Cardinals for their sixth straight victory.

 “You define yourselves by what you do against the highest level of competition,” said head coach Doug Bruno. “When you have the opportunity to play top-10 teams on your home court, you have to seize that opportunity.”

 DePaul (12-3) set out to do just that, led in scoring by Anna Martin, who finished with 22 points. Brittany Hrynko compiled another solid statline with 21 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals. Chanise Jenkins rounded out the guard play with 10 points and three assists.

 In the frontcourt, Jasmine Penny finished a perfect 6-6 from the field for 15 points, while Katherine Harry handled her interior responsibilities admirably, grabbing 13 points and blocking two shots.

 The first half was fairly evenly matched, neither team pulling ahead for any significant stretch. Both teams shot decently — (DePaul 47.1 percent, Louisville 48.4 percent) — but Bruno was displeased with the effort put forth by his squad. In particular, he urged Martin and Hrynko to play better — Martin managed just five points on 2-5 shooting due to heavy defensive pressure, while Hrynko’s uncharacteristic turnovers hampered her otherwise unselfish playmaking.

 “I sat the two of the them in front of me and went at them,” said Bruno. “They’re both big-time guards and have to play in big-time games. They took Anna out of the game in the first half. I’m proud of the way Anna and Brittany brought us back in the second half.”

 The Blue Demons, fueled by Bruno’s words at halftime, put together an 11-2 run in the first three minutes of the second half to push their lead to 52-44. The run was capped by a high-arcing three by Martin, who scored 17 second-half points. Her third three-pointer gave the Demons their largest lead of the game, a 70-56 advantage with under 10 minutes to play, and the game looked to be well at hand.

 But the Cardinals stormed back, rallying in the waning minutes of the game to awaken the contingent of visiting fans and silence the home crowd.

 In order to withstand the Cardinals’ rally in the waning minutes of the game, Hrynko and the rest of the Demons stuck to playing defense as well as they could. DePaul especially concentrated its efforts on stopping junior Shoni Schimmel, who poured in 17 second half points.

 “Coach told us that Shoni was gonna try and take over the game,” said Hrynko, “so we just had to contain her and make sure she didn’t get too many good baskets to go ahead of us.”

 “I’m happy that we had a nice, cushiony lead built — we didn’t have answers for Louisville down the stretch — and were able to hang on and win the basketball game.”

 One sticking point for Bruno late in the game was in trapping on ball screens, a lack of defensive help that Louisville exploited for outside looks. Schimmel in particular benefited the most, shooting behind screens and drilling three-point shots at least a few steps beyond the arc.

 Despite an 80-70 DePaul lead with 4:52 remaining, Schimmel drilled consecutive deep threes to trim the lead to four. Monique Reid, who finished with a game-high 25 points, hit a jumper on the following possession to close the gap to just two.

 “I was hoping we would make some stops and extend the lead even farther so that we wouldn’t be in that scenario,” said Martin. “There was just a stretch where we gave them too many good looks.

 “They really did a good job of taking us out of our offense in the last four minutes,” said Martin. “When that happens, you just have to respond defensively.”

 Martin followed the Reid shot with a coast-to-coast layup, bringing DePaul’s lead to 82-78. Louisville, unable to convert on its next two possessions, fouled Hrynko in hopes that the game could be extended. But Hrynko calmly netted all four free throws to ice the game and give DePaul its first conference win of the season.

 “I’m glad that we were able to show people that we can beat the number 10 team in the nation, in a televised game,” said Bruno. “Once we lost to Dayton, it’s easy to fall out of the top 25, but it’s hard to climb back in. We still have a lot more to do before we get back into the top 25, but I think we’re a worthy team.”