DePaul edges past Louisville to move on to the Sweet Sixteen

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DePaul's Jessica January (14) shoots over Louisville's Arica Carter (11) during the first half of a second-round women's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

DePaul’s Jessica January (14) shoots over Louisville’s Arica Carter (11) during the first half of a second-round women’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE — They did it.

No. 6 DePaul is back in the Sweet Sixteen after missing out last season after a nail-biting 73-72 win over No. 3 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. But, it could’ve very easily been a different outcome were it not for some game-changing plays late.

Chanise Jenkins felt the pressure with 30.2 seconds to go when she was fouled, going to the line to shoot two free throws. She missed the first; her head dropped, but popped right back up as she mentally collected herself amidst the deafening crowd in Louisville – draining the second.

Timeout Louisville.

Louisville drives down the court with the seconds ticking away. Briahanna Jackson gets the ball, drives to the basket with her coach Jeff Walz anxiously staring from the sideline as she goes under the basket – reverse layup, tie game.

Timeout DePaul.

With just 15.1 seconds to go, this was DePaul’s last chance to win. Coach Doug Bruno schemed up a play for the team to execute at the inbound. Shockingly, Louisville’s Briahanna Jackson, the star in the second half, plays the inbound too aggressively and fouls Jessica January, her fifth on the day.

January steps up to the free throw line, knowing she needed one basket to take the lead. The crowd is louder than ever as she takes the first, but it clanks off the back of the rim.

She takes a deep breath and lined up her second– swish.

The Cardinals had the ball, down one, with their best player on the court itching for the game-winning basket. Myisha Hines-Allen ends up with the ball as the clock is ticking above her and drives to the basket amongst a crowd of three Blue Demons – charging foul is called after Hines-Allen barreled through Jenkins.

Walz furiously questions the official nearest him, while Bruno let out a sigh of relief.

Game over – DePaul wins.

“Going into the game, we knew that Louisville is susceptible to charging and so it was part of the game plan the entire game for us to try to get in the lane and take some charges,” Bruno said. “At the end of the game there…it’s still a gutsy official that will call that call, so I’m just really impressed with what our players did to handle that situation and I’m also impressed with the officiating that had the guts to make that call.”

January had one of her best performances ever, scoring 25 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists against the AP No. 8 team in the nation. Her performance is even more impressive considering Jenkins was ice cold in the first half and Megan Podkowa and Jacqui Grant were in foul trouble most of the game. It forced Bruno to switch up the game plan a bit.

“There’s no doubt we were scrambling for sure because we lost two of our interior players,” Bruno said. “Yet, we seemed to have a better offensive flow with only one of our interior players on the floor anyways. At the same time…I don’t want to go on in this tournament with Megan and Jacqui in foul trouble.”

The bench was key to DePaul’s success today. Ashton Millender shot a perfect 5-5 and scored 12 points, but her defensive play disrupting plays and forcing Louisville into difficult shots was what set her apart from most of the team. Mart’e Grays also stepped up in the absence of Grant and Podkowa for stretches of the game accumulating nine points, four rebounds and three assists. Jenkins shook off her first half slump and finished with 12 points.

“Our bench outscored Louisville’s bench and I didn’t go very deep in the second half,” Bruno said. “We don’t win the game today without our bench.”

Jackson was the reason Louisville stayed as close as it did with her 20-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance before fouling out. Somehow, DePaul was able to frustrate Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Hines-Allen limiting her to just four points the final three quarters after she went off for 10 points in the first.

“I thought it was a really good team effort when she got the ball in the post. Jacqui Grant and Mart’e Grays did a really good job preventing her from catching the ball down the stretch,” Podkowa said. “I think the guards stepping up, like Chanise taking that charge at the end was huge, I think they frustrated her a little with that, and foul trouble too.”

DePaul will travel to Dallas next weekend for the Sweet Sixteen on March 26 to face the winner of No. 2 Oregon State and No. 10 St. Bonaventure.