DePaul women’s basketball looks to bounce back next year after disappointing end to 2020-21 season

FILE-Head+coach+Doug+Bruno+yelling+out+to+his+players+during+the+game+against+Marquette.+The+Blue+Demons+shot+just+38+percent+from+the+field+in+their+Big+East+finale.

Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia

FILE-Head coach Doug Bruno yelling out to his players during the game against Marquette. The Blue Demons shot just 38 percent from the field in their Big East finale.

Winning has become a staple of the DePaul women’s basketball program. At this point, it’s an expectation that the Blue Demons will win at least 75 percent of their regular-season games. 

For 18 straight years, DePaul qualified for every single NCAA Tournament, winning six Big East regular season titles and five conference tournament championships. Winning has simply become tradition for head coach Doug Bruno’s program.

That, however, slightly changed this past season. In a much shortened season due to the Covid-19 pandemic, DePaul went 14-10 overall, 11-5 in the Big East and finished fourth in the conference. The Blue Demons also suffered a poor run of form in the last month of the season, losing four of the last five games, including the first round game in the Big East Tournament to Villanova. 

A home loss to Butler, who only won two games all season, to close out the regular season hurt DePaul’s metrics when the NCAA committee evaluated each team.  

A bad stretch to end the season ended up forcing the committee to leave the Blue Demons out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. In an interview with The DePaulia, Bruno talked about his team’s finish to the year and looking forward to the 2021-22 season. 

FILE-DePaul women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno smiles during his team’s 86-62 win over No. 9 Kentucky on Dec. 16 at Wintrust Arena. (Eric Henry/The DePaulia )

“I hoped we learned some valuable lessons from last year,” he said. “First of all, I want to compliment our team for the way they managed and the way they executed Covid discipline last season. And that secondly, a lesson learned from a pure basketball perspective is how fine-lined the margins are between having a really good year that puts you where you want to be, which is the NCAA Tournament, and not being in the NCAA Tournament.”

Those slim margins put DePaul as one of the First Four out teams for the NCAA Tournament, forcing them to participate in the NIT. Even in that tournament, the Blue Demons wound up losing both games to Saint Louis and Drake. 

Part of the reason that the Blue Demons struggled to win in the last month came down to their inability to make key stops in the fourth quarter. For the season, DePaul finished in the bottom of the Big East in scoring defense, field goal percentage and rebounding defense. 

“We did not defend well at the end of the year; we did not defend well much of the year,” Bruno said. “We did not rebound well and I thought our sharing of the ball, which is a trademark of what DePaul ball is all about, I didn’t think we shared the ball as efficiently as our previous teams [were] sharing it.”

I hoped we learned some valuable lessons from last year,”

— Doug Bruno, head coach, DePaul Women's Basketball

The way that the Blue Demons play, which involves a lot of full-court pressing and a fast-tempo offense, puts them in position to give up more points than most NCAA Tournament teams. That style of play has led to success in the past, but when the defense failed to generate stops and turnovers, the offense also suffered. 

“If we are going to play a style that’s going to create up-tempo and create multiple possessions, by design, you are playing a risk-reward defense,” Bruno said. “A risk-reward defense means you are never going to have great defensive metrics.”

In the loss to Butler, the Blue Demons gave up 86 points to a team that averaged only 57.2 per game all of last season. Then in the loss to Drake in the elimination game of the NIT, Bruno’s team allowed 100 points. Even though DePaul has never had an elite defense by the numbers, this year’s team allowed up nearly seven more points than the 2019-20 team.

Bruno attributes some of last season’s struggles to limited practice time throughout the season. Due to the pandemic hitting last year, DePaul lost out on practice time in April and May that is usually spent working on conditioning. 

FILE-Head coach Doug Bruno reacts to a play during the first half, the Blue Demons were outscored 55-29 in the first twenty minutes. (Ryan Gilroy | The DePaulia)

DePaul, who never had to shut down team activities last season due to a positive Covid-19 test, suffered multiple injuries that shrunk the roster size. Graduate student Courtney Fredrickson didn’t play a single game last season and freshman Kendall Holmes, who was one of the first players off the bench, suffered a season-ending injury Jan. 4 against Villanova. 

“Courtney Fredrickson would have played a lot of minutes for us last year, had she been healthy,” Bruno said. “And then, Kendall Holmes, who put up big numbers in an early season game, was a very valuable reserve guard that we lost. So, we really didn’t have the numbers to play the way we wanted to play.”

Looking forward to next season, DePaul is hoping to get Holmes and Fredrickson back from injury while adding new players to the roster. Aneesah and Nazlah Morrow join Kaitlyn Ammons as the incoming freshman for next year. In addition, Deja Church and Dee Bekelja will be staying another year after the NCAA granted seniors an extra year of eligibility. 

“Every year is a new year,” Bruno said. “You are not going to go to the tournament every year because you went 18 straight times. You have to earn it every single year.”