Women’s basketball survives late scare, advances to next round of NCAA tournament

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DePaul took Brigham Young’s best punches and stood tall in the end.

The Blue Demons survived a late scare from BYU to defeat the Cougars 59-55 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament Saturday evening at Allstate Arena.

DePaul jumped out to big leads early in each half. BYU went into halftime up 29-27, mainly due to the early dominance of Jennifer Hamson in the post. She ended the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but her 14 first half points gave the Blue Demons fits.

“She’s a really tall girl, but she’s athletic,” DePaul forward Katherine Harry said. “She can make plays too. I was just trying not to let that get into my head.”

The Blue Demons jumped out to a 10-1 lead to start the game and it seemed like they would coast into the second round. After BYU put Hamson in, the Cougars went on a 13-2 run to take the lead. The end of the half was back and forth with DePaul ultimately gaining some more rhythm.

DePaul came out in the second half with a greater sense of urgency and more intensity. They also had a more aggressive gameplan on how to attack Hamson on both ends of the court, driving the ball right at her on the offensive end and fronting as well as double-teaming her on the defensive end.

“We also went zone,” Head Coach Doug Bruno said about DePaul’s adjustments. “I think the zone was very effective and very important.”

Anna Martin led all Blue Demons in scoring with 17 points. Three other DePaul players scored in double-figures with Brittany Hrynko, Harry, and Jasmine Penny scoring 15, 12 and 12 points, respectively.

Defensively, another key was keeping Kristen Riley and Haley Steed in check. The two BYU seniors combined to score 16 points on just 5-of-20 shooting (25 percent). BYU outrebounded DePaul 43-32 but also turned the ball over 20 times compared to 15 for the Blue Demons.

The Blue Demons seemed to have the game in hand with less than three minutes remaining and an eight-point lead on BYU, but the Cougars fought back and got to within three with less than a minute remaining.

The Cougars decided not to foul and forced a DePaul miss. Steed came down the court and missed her three-point attempt. Brittany Hrynko got the ball and was fouled.

“I was kind of upset because coach was yelling at me, but I knew if I made the foul shot we had a good chance at winning.”

She sank one of two free throws, and only a desperation heave from Riley stood between DePaul and a second-round matchup with two-seed Tennessee.

“That’s a really, really good basketball team,” Bruno said about BYU.

Up next are the Volunteers, who defeated Tennessee-Martin in the first game of the day at Allstate by a 72-49 score. Monday’s game will also be a rematch from the regular season when DePaul lost 84-61 at the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.

“We played them out at Madison Square Garden and we really didn’t show out very well,” Harry said. “We’re definitely a different team now and so are they. Every game has a life of its own and we can’t let what happened in December get in our heads. We have to take the positives and learn for Monday.”

Tip-off on March 19 is set for 8:30 p.m.