Updated 10:25 p.m.
DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno and the rest of his staff scheduled No. 5 Texas A&M as the first game of the season for a reason. As part of the three day Maggie Dixon Classic tournament, the Blue Demons could have waited until Sunday to face the team that knocked them out of the Sweet Sixteen last season.
But on a Friday with just more than 2,000 people in attendance, the Blue Demons wanted to face the best right away. Taking on the No. 5 team in the nation, Bruno said beforehand that this was an opportunity to make DePaul’s season, but not make or break it.
Texas A&M edged out DePaul with a 76-68 victory, and the Blue Demons came away with a valuable teaching moment.
“When you play the style we play, we don’t get put in a position that often where you have to stay patient,” Bruno said. “Patience is a vague word in the sport of basketball. And yet patience means, when really good players on the other side of the ball take A, B and C from you, that you continue to find D, E and F.
“That’s the teaching moment,” he said. “We tried to do too many things ourselves instead of giving it up for the simple pass, and letting something else happen.”
DePaul (0-1) had 10 more turnovers in the second half than the first, letting Texas A&M to extend a second half lead that DePaul wasn’t able to come back from. DePaul was forced to adjust throughout the game as the Texas A&M again took the best weapons away from DePaul.
The Blue Demons shot just 31 percent (22-71) and 19.2 percent (5-26) from 3-point range compared to 42 percent and 20 percent in their 84-65 meeting in March.
Trying to avenge that loss, the rematch between DePaul and the Aggies (1-0) lived up to the billing. Sophomore Jessica January had a career-high 24 points and Brittany Hrynko added 19, but the Blue Demons let up 51 percent on the defensive end.
Even in the first game of the year, DePaul pressed the action up-and-down the court while A&M tried to beat the Blue Demons off the dribble.
“The first game of the year and you saw a Sweet Sixteen game,” Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said. “This is what it takes when you’re at the Sweet Sixteen and I think both of us will be there again. Give Doug a lot of credit; he plays a system no matter if he’s playing UConn, Notre Dame or us.
“Before the game, I sat down (guards) Courtney (Walker) and Jordan (Jones) that we were going to need them for 35 minutes,” Blair said.
Walker was again a force for the Aggies. Walker, who scored 25 points in the first meeting, led all scorers with 26 points and was crucial for the Aggies in the final minute. The junior hit a layup to give the Aggies a 70-66 lead with just under two minutes to go. She also converted her free throws down the stretch.
Walker stepped up in place of forward Courtney Williams, one of A&M’s best players who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
“I knew I had to be more aggressive, and find two or three shots per game,” Walker said. “I knew I needed to be smart and aggressive.”
DePaul had successful moments of their own by being aggressive. The Blue Demons forced 25 turnovers, scoring 25 points off of them. The Blue Demons trailed 37-36 at halftime, but went into the locker room with a 27-24 lead in rebounding.
On offense, January was the main option for the Blue Demons by being able to penetrate the defense. Of January’s 24 points, the sophomore guard was able to get to the free throw line 12 times.
“We realized that we had four guards playing and only one post player, so we realized that I had a mismatch,” January said. “My teammates were able to get me the ball and take advantage of that so I could get to the rim pretty easily.”
In the second half, however, DePaul lost their rebounding edge. While the Blue Demons ended with a +6 rebounding edge (17-11) on the offensive glass , the Aggies outrebounded DePaul, 47-38.
The Blue Demons also struggled from the free throw line, shooting 63.6 percent from the line (14-22) against nearly 68 percent (19-28) from the Aggies.
Along with the tunovers, they were all areas that Bruno said needed to be cleaned up.
“I thought our players played fearlessly and did an excellent job of laying it out on the court tonight,” Bruno said. “But once you’re playing with a fearless mindset, you still have to execute.”
DePaul returns Saturday with the second game of the Maggie Dixon Classic at 6 p.m. at McGrath-Phillips Arena, taking on Texas Pan-America (1-0).