DePaul gets blown out by UConn, 94-60, in quarterfinals of Big East Tournament


Alexa Sandler/The DePaulia

DePaul sophomore forward Romeo Weems stands in front of a UConn player on Monday at Wintrust Arena.

Dave Leitao’s second job as an assistant coach was working for Jim Calhoun at UConn, a place that the current DePaul head coach spent 14 years at. On Thursday, Leitao was coaching against UConn for the first time in the Big East Tournament. 

It did not go well for Leitao and his Blue Demons. The third-seeded Huskies dominated the game from start to finish, and won 94-60 to secure a ticket to the semifinals of the conference tournament.

“I was concerned at the first TV timeout just because the energy was different than it was last night,” Leitao said. “What happened after that was we lost some of our fight.”

On Wednesday, DePaul defeated Providence 70-62 in the first-round of the tournament. After playing a highly competitive game against the Friars, the story was different a day later. 

In a way, it’s poetic that UConn is the team that ended Leitao’s season and possibly ended his time as DePaul’s head coach. According to a report from CBS Sports college basketball reporter Matt Norlander, DePaul is “definitely” going to make a head coaching change after this season. That article came out a couple of hours before Thursday’s game. 

Leitao has preached in the past the importance of rebounding and playing solid defense. He got none of that from his team. UConn outrebounded the Blue Demons 53-29, including 24-11 on the offensive end, and outscored DePaul 50-32 in the paint.

“The one thing that we said first was rebounding and how to carry it over from last night [to] tonight,” Leitao said. “But you can’t go through box out drills, you can’t go through physicality. You just have to make sure that they understand how important it is. And to [UConn’s] credit, they beat us up pretty bad on the backboards because they went after it.”

DePaul was not allowed to find any offensive rhythm from the start, with the Huskies blitzing senior guard Charlie Moore and forcing others to beat them. After Moore scored 21 points in Wednesday’s win over Providence, he was limited to eight on 3-of-9 shooting a day later.

UConn jumped out to an early 15-7 lead following an 8-0 run that was led by sophomore guard James Bouknight. The Blue Demons’ inability to generate any offense really hurt them in the first half as the Huskies were getting anything they wanted on the offensive end. 

DePaul also compounded its issues by sending UConn to the free-throw line 13 times in the first half, with the Huskies converting nine of them. In the closing six minutes of the half, the Blue Demons only made one shot, got outscored 16-2 and committed five turnovers. 

Led by Bouknight’s 10 points, UConn took a commanding 45-22 lead into the break. The onslaught only got worse in the second half for the Blue Demons. 

Two turnovers coming out of halftime resulted in four quick points for the Huskies, promoting Leitao to call a timeout in the opening minute. DePaul’s final 19 minutes were more about pride than trying to make a miraculous comeback. The dreams of advancing to its first Big East Tournament semifinals were shattered in the first half.

But the scoreline continued to get worse for the Blue Demons. A 9-0 run in the middle of the half gave UConn a 75-41 lead. Junior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty was the only bright spot for DePaul, scoring 19 points and grabbing four rebounds. 

The largest lead of the game came in the final minute as UConn made it a 94-55 game before DePaul freshman guard Kobe Elvis closed the game scoring five points. 

DePaul’s season ends with a 5-14 overall record and 3-13 in the Big East, including going 1-1 in the conference tournament. In the postgame press conference, Leitao touched on everything the players had to go through this season. 

“So all the things that you need — other than the obvious, which is talent, skill, all of those things which hopefully you have enough of — those other things that provide you with opportunities to grow: chemistry, resiliency, knowing each other inside and out and the things that you do as team that we couldn’t either,” Leitao said.

The Blue Demons’ season didn’t begin until Dec. 23 because of three different Covid-19 pauses forcing them to cancel or postpone their first 10 games. Leitao also mentioned that he never had all 12 scholarship players healthy at one time for practice. 

Leitao’s future is now what DePaul has to figure out moving forward. He was handed a four-year contract extension last April, but The DePaulia reported there is no money owed to him after this season.

Since taking over as head coach in 2015, Leitao has guided the Blue Demons to five consecutive last place finishes