If playing on St. Patrick's Day was lucky for DePaul's Lady Blue Demons, what kind of luck will they have against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers on St. Joseph's Day?
Nineteen times, DePaul's Lady Blue Demons and Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Volunteers have played each other. Tennessee has never lost in that matchup.
In their last meeting at the Maggie Dixon Classic in December, the Lady Vols ripped DePaul 84-61 at Madison Square Garden.
Monday night, at Allstate Arena, with a little help from St. Joseph, that might change. And DePaul's fervrent head coach, Doug Bruno, issued a challenge to all Chicagoans:
“Tennessee’s a totally different team than the one we played in December,” Bruno told the Associated Press and the media throng gathered at the Allstate Arena Saturday night. “So are we. It’s going to be a very, very tough game … (and) hopefully we can get 17,000 out and get this place filled."
So, it may or may not be a more even matchup than ever before for the #7-seeded DePaul, after all, who won the opportunity to play Tennessee after a down-to-the wire 59-55 victory over BYU on Saturday evening.
Second-seeded Tennessee earned their rights to the Des Moines Regional final by giving coach Pat Summitt a victory over UC-Martin, 72-49. Summitt attended UC-Martin from 1970-74, pre-dating Title IX and most of the benefits that her players are reaping today under her tutelage.
Earlier in the week, Summitt, who announced last summer that she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's style, said she wasn’t sure she would coach beyond the season. Seeing Summitt on the court gave me the same impression. She is there, a commanding presence still, but no longer providing the minute to minute, game-changing advice she used to. That's what Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick does now. Warlick said that Summitt still does give "one-on-one advice" to the players, as she sees fit.
That's been reflected on the court this season. As noted by AP and others, the Lady Vols were inconsistent throughout the regular season, getting blown out at Stanford and Notre Dame and falling 76-67 at home to Baylor, the top seed in the region, in a game they led for much of the second half. But they also blew out fellow second seed Kentucky, in the SEC conference tournament. The SEC regular season victory, however, went to the Wildcat women, who have never been as highly seeded or regarded as their brother Wildcats under John Calipari, nor Tubby Smith. Or even Adolph Rupp.
Are the Lady Vols hitting their stride in the postseason?
"People expect us to make it to the Final Four," Tennessee forward Glory Johnson told the Associated Press on Sunday. "It's just really us focusing and knowing that we have to do the small things to get there - and even think about getting there. I think our coache
DePaul is 9-16 in NCAA games and reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and in 2006. The Blue Demons have reached the second round seven times.
What are the odds here? Long for DePaul. Under Summitt, the Lady Vols have won numerous SEC titles, appeared in 18 NCAA Final Fours and 4 AIAW Final Fours, and won 8 NCAA titles including an undefeated season. Additionally, Tennessee is the only team to have appeared in all 29 NCAA Tournaments, including 27 Sweet 16s (23 of which were consecutive) (source: Wikipedia.)
Summitt has been a part of it all, and the Lady Vols are anxious to win a ninth championship for her.
But Bruno's determined and intrepid Lady Blue Demons will make a contest out of it. As Bruno told me on Saturday night, "We always play to win."
Here's how I see this game coming down: The Lady Blue Demons, led by Anna Martin, Katherine Harry, and Brittany Hyrnko will come out strong in the first half, and will briefly dominate the Lady Vols. They will have to conserve their energy, though, and be careful to spend it wisely as the Vols will whittle away the Blue Demons' energy as they pick up strength as the game wears on. That's been their strategy all year, and that's what makes them so hard to read or beat. The greatest of teams this year--Baylor, Stanford, UConn--caught them this season as they were transitioning from Summitt to Warlick. They're more comfortable now. That's why I am picking the Vols.
My final score prediction: Tennessee 75 DePaul 65