DePaul falls short to Villanova, 78-72, in quarterfinals of Big East Tournament


Alexa Sandler/The DePaulia

DePaul junior guard Lexi Held looks to go past a Villanova defender on Jan. 4 at Wintrust Arena.

Having lost three out of the last four games to end the regular season, DePaul was hoping to rediscover some of its magic against Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. 

The last time these two teams faced off in the Big East Tournament was back in 2015 semifinals — a matchup that DePaul won 58-55. This time around, Villanova came away with a 78-72 win in overtime.

“We’ve not defended well down the stretch of the season,” said DePaul women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno. “We didn’t defend well tonight.”

Slow starts have plagued DePaul in its last three losses. Against Villanova, the Blue Demons came out hot, scoring the game’s first nine points. At the end of the first quarter, DePaul had a 22-12 lead.

However, that lead would quickly slip away.

Villanova took control of the game from the second quarter on, outscoring DePaul 25-14 in the second, erasing a 10-point deficit to go into halftime with a 37-36 lead. 

Bruno and the Blue Demons must have felt like they were reliving the same game over and over again, as poor shooting was once again the culprit in the second quarter. The Blue Demons shot just 27.8 percent, 5-of-18, from the court. 

“Our players understand that if I’m going to give them a green light to shoot quickly, that they have to defend,” Bruno said. “And I don’t know if we ever bought into that concept the entire year. When we’re making shots and defending, we’re okay. But when we’re missing shots and not defending, we’re not okay.”

The third quarter proved no better as DePaul was limited to just nine points and missed nine out of their last 10 shots. Meanwhile, Villanova went on a 15-2 run that spanned six minutes of play. 

DePaul did not go down without a fight. In a bit of a role reversal from the third quarter, it was the Blue Demons’ defense that stifled Villanova. DePaul outscored them 19-9. Senior guard Deja Church made good on her two free-throws to tie the game with 20 seconds left.

Church had the final shot in regulation. Coming out of a timeout, she received the inbound pass and drove inside, attempting a layup that hit the bottom of the rim. 

All the momentum and intensity DePaul showed to tie the game fizzled out in overtime as they shot 22.2 percent compared to Villanova’s 75 percent. The defense did a good job in keeping sophomore forward Maddy Siegrist scoreless in the final quarter, but she went off for 10 in overtime and finished the game with 30 points.

“I’m proud of our players for coming back from the hole that we dug for ourselves,” Bruno said. “They did a really good job of finally getting into the moment and staying in the moment late in the ball game and bringing the game back to overtime. But then Nova made more plays than we did in the overtime.”

Church finished the game with 19 points and four rebounds. Junior guard Sonya Morris had 16 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Junior guard Lexi Held contributed 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.

As a whole, DePaul finished the game shooting only 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc. It’s been the overarching pattern for the Blue Demons during this poor run of form. 

DePaul went into the game averaging 82 points a game, ninth in the nation, and managed to score only 72 points — with overtime. Their defense was forcing 22 turnovers a game, forced only 16 against Villanova and scored just 12 points off those turnovers.

This marks the first time DePaul is one-and-done in the Big East Tournament and finish out this part of the season by losing four of their last five games. Now they must wait to see whether they get a place in the NCAA Tournament. 

Bruno brought up the fact that they would have made the tournament last season had it not been canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s only a year ago that we put ourselves in position to have two games in the NCAA Tournament that wasn’t,” Bruno said. “And then that tournament goes away and now you have to fight your way into a new tournament. And we’ll see what happens. We’ll just see where it all lays out and see what happens.”

He does believe, however, that his team deserves to be included in the tournament.

“I think there’s no doubt that we went out and scheduled people,” Bruno said. “And some of the other people campaigning for the right to be in the tournament, if you go out and look at who they scheduled, they didn’t schedule difficult people.”

“Absolutely, I believe we deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. When I see other leagues telling the committee that 10 teams should be in for us — when I hear that, absolutely I believe we should be in the NCAA Tournament.”