Late game surge falls short as DePaul falls to Connecticut

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Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

Head coach Doug Bruno reacts to a play during the first half, the Blue Demons were outscored 55-29 in the first twenty minutes.

Monday night saw the worst and the best of the DePaul women’s basketball team as they hosted no. 2 Connecticut at Wintrust Arena. UConn, a former Big East foe, is a team that DePaul schedules every year and looks forward too. It’s the second AP top-five team that DePaul has played this year, after falling to no. 3 Oregon State in November.

Things were rough after a first half that saw the Blue Demons trail 55-29 at the break. The second half showed everything great about the Blue Demons offense, as they stormed back to cut the lead to six early in the fourth quarter before falling 84-74 to the unbeaten Huskies.

In the first quarter, both teams started slowly as after three minutes it was still knotted at 2-2. After a few plays by Deja Church and Sonya Morris, the Blue Demons were only down 12-9. Yet it wouldn’t be that close ever again over the course of the night, as UConn took over. Leading scorer Megan Walker and Crystal Dangerfield put things to rest early as the two scored the next ten points for the Huskies as they took a commanding 26-11 lead late in the first quarter.

That was the story of the night as both Walker and Dangerfield had their way on offense, hitting open threes and easy layups. The two would combine for 12-of-19 shooting in the first half going for 32 points. The duo, along with contribution off the bench from Anna Makurat, paced the scoring for the Huskies. 61.1 percent shooting for the Huskies saw them cruise out to a 55-29 lead at halftime.

That efficiency couldn’t be replicated by the Blue Demons, who saw contested looks all throughout the game. The nation’s leading scorers had their worst half of the year shooting-wise, going 2-for-13 from deep in the first half and 34.3 percent from the field overall. Sonya Morris had 10 points in the first half as Stonewall added nine.

Rebounding was a big disparity between the two teams, as the first half saw a staggering 29 to 9 advantage on the glass for the visitors. This, coupled with great looks for the Huskies lead to the dominant first twenty minutes.

Like the Blue Demons have shown all season, there is no quit in them. The second half saw them roar back, opening the half on a 16-8 scoring run to cut the lead to 63-45. Chante Stonewall came alive in the third quarter, scoring ten points including a layup that cut the game to 67-53 with 1:05 left in the quarter.

What went right for the Blue Demons in the third quarter was everything that had gone wrong in the first. The Blue Demons took care of the ball and put pressure on UConn big Olivia Nelson-Ododa by doubling or even triple-teaming her by the basket. Three steals lead to better looks for the Blue Demons who, on the offensive end, knocked down 5-of-6 threes to cut the 26 point lead down to a more manageable 69-56 deficit.

DePaul outscored UConn 27-14 in the third quarter to get them back into the game.

The fourth quarter saw a continuation of that play, as a Kelly Campbell 3-pointer cut the UConn lead to 69-63 just over two minutes into the quarter. DePaul was right back in the game for the rest of the quarter. Morris hit two threes in the quarter and Campbell had her lone five points of the game, but a 1-of-12 shooting stretch for DePaul at the end of the game resulted in UConn securing an 84-74 win to stay unbeaten.

Walker and Dangerfield played all 40 minutes for the Huskies, as they each scored 22 points while adding to the lopsided 50-29 rebounding advantage.

Campbell played all 40 minutes for the Blue Demons, posting five points, ten rebounds and five assists. Stonewall had 21 and Morris had 20 to pace DePaul. Their defense limited the Huskies to 0-for-7 from deep in the second half.

“We built a wall, made it hard for them to get easy, open looks,” Morris said. “We took some crucial charges and I think that was the part that gave us the advantage.”

The Blue Demons fall to 9-2 after the loss and will face Loyola on the road on Friday night.

In recent games against Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Green Bay, DePaul found themselves in 10 or more point deficits. In each of those games they erased those leads and found themselves back in the game. Monday night was their biggest deficit yet, and the 26 point hole they dug themselves in was just a little too deep for a full comeback. Yet the fight shows, and with a game against Loyola around the corner, they will learn from this loss, at least that is the plan.

“With a game like this, our team shouldn’t walk away with our heads,” Stonewall said. “We should wake up tomorrow morning with our heads held high, I feel like we showed our fight.”

The loss is the 17th for Bruno against Geno Auriemma. UConn will join the Big East next year, a conference that’s tournament they won seven out of nine times before departing in 2013. With undefeated Loyola on the schedule for Friday, the Blue Demons will finally cap off their tough nonconference schedule where they played five ranked or vote-receiving teams with three of those contests on the road.

“I just believe in preparing our players by playing the best,” Bruno said.

With this loss, the Blue Demons have just one nonconference game left before hosting Marquette on Dec. 29.