UPDATED: No. 5 Kentucky edges DePaul women’s basketball 96-85

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[Updated: Dec. 12, 11:50 p.m. CST]

Prior to the matchup against Kentucky, DePaul women’s basketball head coach said the team needed to be aggressive and not fall into the pace that the fifth ranked team in the nation usually sets.

During the first 10 minutes of the game, the Blue Demons seemed to execute that plan perfectly.

The team jumped out to a 21-10 lead, thanks to two big three pointers from Megan Podkowa and Megan Rogowski.

DePaul kept up the pace, having a 44-37 lead with 1:38 left to go.  The Blue Demons’ guards were outworking Kentucky’s press defense by swiftly moving the ball up the court.

However in what Kentucky’s head coach Matthew Mitchell says was the most crucial part of the game, Kentucky went on a 7-0 run to end the first half to tie the game.

It was then when everything started to change.

“I was really proud of our players finishing the first half with some toughness there, where it looks like things were started to slip away from us,” Mitchell said. “For us to get it back tied at halftime was very key.”

No. 5 Kentucky (10-0) shot 60 percent in the second half and outrebounded DePaul  (4-3) 40-23, beating the women’s basketball team 96-85 Thursday at McGrath Phillips Arena.  

“It was hard to come on the road to play a DePaul team that was so explosive offensively,” Mitchell said. “I thought we were just tough enough to come out and win the game in the second half. This was a significant win for us.”

The Wildcats controlled the pace after halftime, limiting the Blue Demons to shooting 43 percent while forcing seven turnovers.  Kentucky’s offense also flourished and ended up with five Wildcats in double figures.

Kentucky’s Lianne Harper led her team with 18 points and five rebounds. It was a special night for the freshman, who had her high school jersey retired at Whitney Young the night before.

“I was nervous,” Harper said. “I hadn’t been home and was excited to be here playing in front of my family and friends. More importantly it was a business trip and knowing we were on the road and had to play hard.”

Bruno said the team’s lack of execution on defense was DePaul’s undoing. The Wildcats had 17 offensive rebounds and attempted 35 free throws.

“The concept of great effort is something you’re supposed to do every day,” Bruno said. “I still have to look at this game and say we’re a basketball team who played unintelligently. I’m not very pleased with the team’s effort in the big picture.

“(DePaul) is the second ranked team academically in the nation,” Bruno said. “This is a team that just earned 39 A’s, 12 B’s and 2 C’s, and I’m really proud of them for what they did, but hello – let’s translate.”

As the game started to unravel in the second half, Brittany Hrynko tried to spark the team offensively. She finished with 20 points, 13 of them coming in the second half.

“I think when we’re down, just getting to the basket is huge,” Hrynko said. “Not only me getting to the basket just to score, but getting to the basket to suck their defenders in so my teammates get open shots.” 

Still, it was Kentucky who couldn’t be stopped. The team sparked a 9-0 run to take an 85-73 lead.

Kentucky took their largest lead of 13 with 2:02 to go. Rogowski said that Kentucky’s play began to have an effect on DePaul’s legs.  Kentucky’s depth allowed them to stay fresh with the Wildcats’ bench outscoring the Blue Demons 45-6.

“When you’re out there running around for the majority of the game, you do get tired,” Rogowski said. “They just kept bringing people in. Having fresh legs does make a difference, but there was nothing we could do about it.”

This was DePaul’s second game this season against a nationally ranked team. They previously lost to Notre Dame, 92-76.  Bruno mentioned that DePaul’s tough non-conference schedule will lead to improving the team in the long run.

“We don’t have problems in our programs, we have challenges,” Bruno said. “How do we fix the challenge? I always think it’s how it’s always been: through practice. I’m not irritated that we’re not going to get good. I’m irritated that we’re not good already.”