Jessica January returns as DePaul women’s basketball cruises by Villanova 77-50

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Jessica January returns as DePaul women’s basketball cruises by Villanova 77-50

Junior guard Jessica January plays against Creighton.  (Photo by Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

Junior guard Jessica January plays against Creighton. (Photo by Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

Junior guard Jessica January plays against Creighton. (Photo by Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

Junior guard Jessica January plays against Creighton. (Photo by Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

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No. 19 DePaul women’s basketball would cruise to a 77-50 victory over Villanova before a packed McGrath-Phillips arena Friday night, but all the focus was on the return of Jessica January.  The 2016 pre-season Big East player of the year had missed 15 games after fracturing her right index finger in the first half of the December 28th matchup against Georgetown.

“[I felt] basically a lot of excitement and a lot of nerves, but mostly just excitement to get back on the floor, having good practices over the week and just being on the floor feels really good,” January said.

Head coach Doug Bruno was sure to add that the passion January had shown while injured had not gone unnoticed.

“When a player is injured, how they work to come back and once Jessica was released to run… she has trained like a maniac to be ready to compete tonight,” Bruno said.  “As much as you run on your own you never know how you are going to play when the game starts, how the speed of the game and the adrenalin, how your conditioning really is until you are in a game.  And I thought the preparation she put into that is something that should be applauded. To see her work every day to come back, that was really impressive.”

January showed little sign of rust in her debut, finishing with the second highest point total on the team with 13 on six-for-nine shooting to go along with four assists and three steals.  During her 15-game absence, the Blue Demons have seen fellow senior Brooke Schulte become a dominant force.  This game saw both players dominate, with Schulte putting in a game high 17 points.  Schulte knows having another talented scorer like January on the floor will only help open things up.

“Jessica is such a threat and anything she does, she can drive, she can pull up jumper, she can get to the basket, she can shoot a three, she’s a phenomenal player,” Schulte said.  “And I think I’d like to say that I embodied my game after her and just watching her play even though she is younger than me, she also is a phenomenal player and just feeding off of her and getting our chemistry back is going to be a fun rest of the way.”

Schulte is not the only player who has seen growth over the time January missed.  Having to play without such a key player has allowed the whole team to grow as a unit and gain confidence that they have what it takes.

“I think the most important silver lining in Jessica’s injury is the confidence… you can only get confidence by doing it yourself, coaches can be positive to try and inject confidence, we can try to illicit people to be confident, but ultimately a human being becomes confident when they’ve done something well and that’s what earns you, gives you an air of true confidence,” Bruno said. “I think what’s happened is the confidence of that group of players to take over and to compete in the league like they have competed in the league without Jessica, I think it is a confidence factor.  So Brooke is confident, Jacqui [Grant] is more confident, Amarah (Coleman) is more confident, Lauren Prochaska is more confident, everybody is just more confident.”

DePaul will close the regular season against the Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday at noon.  This game will be a must win if the Blue Demons want at least a share of the regular season Big East title and a number one seed in the Big East tournament, but Bruno said his players will be ready.

“When we recruit these players, we tell them we are looking from four character pillars in our players.  That they are great teammates, that they are unselfish, that they are ultra-competitive and that they are able to step up in a big moment.  But stepping up in a big moment is nothing more than your work ethic to prepare for the big moment.  If you‘ve been preparing, if you’ve been working, if you’ve been busting it every single day then the big moment is nothing but another two-hour window between 12 and 2 with the lights on.”