No. 23 women’s basketball approaches Big East tournament with 7 players

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Before heading to Hartford, Conn. for the Big East Championship tournament, the No. 23 ranked DePaul Blue Demons prepared with one final practice at All-State Arena in Rosemont. The goal of this final practice was to ready themselves for playing in larger venues compared to the smaller McGrath-Phillips Area.

Like many of their practices of late, this one has a different feel to it.

As a five-on-five drill took place, there were not 10 women on the court. Instead, five players from the women’s team and five from the men’s team practice squad played against each other. This wasn’t a battle of the sexes. It’s what Head Coach Doug Bruno has had to do to fill the void of injured players that has plagued the women’s basketball team.

Currently, the team’s rotation is down to only seven players. Now, as March Madness approaches, Bruno and his squad are taking the necessary steps in order to prepare themselves for this crucial stretch in the postseason.

“It starts with the psyche,” Bruno said. “You have great empathy for the players that are missing, but the players that are available have to have an attitude of fearlessness and a ‘no excuses team’ type of attitude.”

The injuries started piling up since the beginning of the season. Losses to bigs Keisha Hampton and Taylor Pikes have spread the Blue Demons thin in the paint. The lack of an inside game is one of the challenges the team is trying to overcome, according to Bruno.

“We really only have two inside players in Katherine Harry and Jasmine Penny. And Jasmine is even undersized. We never thought she’d be playing exclusively inside this year. So whenever one of those players comes off the floor, you have to put a smaller player inside. It has the potential to skew line ups.”

Without a natural post game, the offense has been inconsistent. In their last win of the season, the Blue Demons racked up 73 points against the Cincinnati Bearcats. However before that, the team managed to score 65 and 62 points in losses to Syracuse and Louisville, respectively.

It could be said that this younger squad needs to find a rhythm. For Bruno, he feels this group of seven is coming together just in time for tournament play.

“What excites me about this seven is the fact that we have a chance to play. We haven’t played our best ball yet, but hopefully we have the chance for that to happen,” he said.

It’s unlikely that any of the five injured players will return at any point during March. Of the injured players, Hampton, Pikes and Alexa Gallagher are battling knee injuries. Chanise Jenkins’ left ankle and Maureen Mulchrone’s back have put them out indefinitely.

The squad of seven will face either Pittsburgh or USF in the first round of the Big East Conference Championship on March 3. Both games in the regular season were close, with DePaul beating Pittsburgh by three and falling to USF in overtime by three.

Of the players competing, only three were a part of DePaul’s run to the Sweet Sixteen last year. This means four new players will have to adjust to the different pace of tournament play. Bruno isn’t worried about his players being unable to adapt.

“Until you get on the floor and actually play and feel the excitement, the energy, and feel the sense of urgency necessary to compete in tournaments, it won’t happen until you get there.”