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Blue Demons hit their stride heading into final two games

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Blue Demons hit their stride heading into final two games

DePaul freshman guard Lexi Held drives to the basket against Butler's Whitney Jennings Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul freshman guard Lexi Held drives to the basket against Butler's Whitney Jennings Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul freshman guard Lexi Held drives to the basket against Butler's Whitney Jennings Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul freshman guard Lexi Held drives to the basket against Butler's Whitney Jennings Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena. Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

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Having won six consecutive games, DePaul women’s basketball (21-7, 12-4 Big East) seeks to continue its hot streak on the road against Providence and Creighton this weekend to earn a share the of Big East regular season title.

DePaul has won or shared five straight regular season titles and clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament following a 76-62 victory at home over Butler this past Sunday. As a result, DePaul will not have to play in the first round of the conference tournament that is set to take place March 9-12 at the Wintrust Arena.

Marquette (23-5, 14-2 Big East) is just ahead of DePaul in the Big East regular season standings and currently holds the No. 1 spot. Marquette has already clinched the top seed in the Big East Tournament by virtue of beating DePaul twice.

Both teams played each other in the previous two Big East Tournament championship games, making the matchup between DePaul and Marquette even more of a rivalry than before. Marquette had its way the first time in March 2017, winning 86-78 in Milwaukee. Last season, DePaul defeated Marquette 98-63 in dominating fashion in Chicago.

In order for DePaul to share the regular season conference title with Marquette, DePaul needs to win its final two games, while Marquette needs to lose both of its games. Marquette will also play Creighton and Providence on the road this weekend.

“We still think that there’s many, many goals that this group has set for themselves that are still very achievable,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said after his team’s over Butler. We still have a lot of basketball we can play, both scheduled basketball [this] weekend at Providence and Creighton, the Big East Tournament, and if we’re fortunate enough to earn our way into the NCAA Tournament postseason basketball.”

DePaul beat Providence (16-12, 8-8 Big East) by a final score of 88-62 on Dec. 31 after falling to Creighton (13-14, 7-9 Big East) 85-82 at McGrath-Phillips Arena on Dec. 29.

Providence, DePaul’s opponent on Friday night, is a much-improved team this season and has won three of its last five games after only winning 10 games all of last season. DePaul’s leading scorer, six-foot-two-inch senior forward Mart’e Grays, is averaging 14.2 points per game this season and recorded a game-high 19 points when DePaul first played Providence.

Grays has emerged as one of DePaul’s most consistent players whose offensive play propelled her to post double-digit scoring figures in eight consecutive games before this past Sunday against Butler. For a DePaul team that leads the Big East in 3-point field goals made per game, Grays’ ability to post-up causes defenses to double-team her and leave DePaul’s guards open for perimeter jump shots.

“We’re finally starting to come together, help others come together and we’re finally starting to play some of our best ball,” Grays said. “We’re not there yet, but at the same time, we’re getting there, and we’re still trying to get there and get it done.”

Junior forward Chante Stonewall is another player for DePaul whose game will be vital in the final two games. The six-foot-one-inch Stonewall is averaging 13.9 points per game, second-best on the team, and her length plays a critical role in DePaul’s defensive strategy.

Stonewall scored a team-high 17 points in DePaul’s loss to Creighton earlier this season. This time around, though, DePaul will look to get Stonewall more involved on both sides of the ball when it squares off against Creighton again on Sunday, March 3.

“Coming into the year, [Stonewall] is our most improved player for sure,” Bruno said. “She’s just a very interesting player. I think she’s developing guard skills, and the more those guard skills kind of become honed, you just see her game coming together and becomes less random.”

DePaul played well defensively in its previous two games against Xavier and Butler in preventing both teams from scoring off fast break opportunities. Namely, DePaul outscored both teams 32-0 in fast breaks.

“It was really big,” senior guard Ashton Millender said. “It was big for us to get them stopped and then to make them run offense in the half court.”

Bench play will also come in handy for DePaul as it closes out the regular season. The freshmen core of Lexi Held, Maya Stovall and Sonya Morris has been an integral component of DePaul’s second-unit success throughout conference play.

To put it into perspective, DePaul’s bench outscored its last two opponents by a combined total of 67-30.

“I just think everyone is going to have to be ready to play every single night,” Bruno said. “I just think it’s a team that has a lot of really, really good players that any night, someone can step up and play.”

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Blue Demons hit their stride heading into final two games