Every year, I hear the same thing. "There are no Illinois teams in the NCAA tournament."
And for the past 14 years, all those who have said that have been wrong.
Why, oh, why, do Illinois residents overlook the DePaul Blue Demons (25-8), who've achieved a berth in the NCAA Women's Tournament for 14 CONSECUTIVE YEARS... also, their 21st overall appearance since 1990?
DePaul is one of just six programs to appear in each of the last 14 NCAA tournaments, joined by Connecticut, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford and Tennessee.
I have to tell you, I am so sick of writing this story.
What's it going to take before these accomplished women, including Chanise Jenkins, Big East Player of the Year, who's averaged nearly 15 points, and five assists per game, to be included among the game's elite?
Especially when you consider that DePaul gave undefeated three time NCAA Champion UConn its third-toughest game of the season, trailing just three points at the half and five points in the fourth quarter before falling 86-70 last December, when UConn has beaten teams by an average of 40 points this season.
I hear from my contacts out East that UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, on the verge of a four-peat NCAA Championship, is treated as a god. Not the God, but a god. And there's no problem rooting for a women's team there, apparently. The UConn Huskies also have their own traveling alumni show, who are as ferocious as the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
Coach Doug Bruno, a class act, an accomplished coach, and the Blue Demons' coach for 29 years, has the patience of Job. He never loses faith that someday, his teams will be given their due.
“We’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country," said Bruno in a press statement."There was a 17-day stretch in December where we played a home game against No. 1 Connecticut and road games against No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 15 Texas A&M, NCAA tournament team South Dakota State and No. 12 Northwestern.
Yep, it's time Coach Bruno gets his due. I say it needs to be within his lifetime.
Consider this: no other Illinois basketball team, including the Kendall Gill-led Fighting Illini NCAA Final Four team in 1989, can boast the following record:
- The Blue Demons reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2014, 2011 and 2006
- They've advanced to the second round 10 times, and four of the last five seasons
- They finished as co-champs of the Big East regular season, losing to Butler in the Big East Conference Semifinals
- They've been as consistent in the classroom as on the floor, winning Academic All-American honors as well
- 100% of the seniors have graduated. Can John Calipari say that about the University of Kentucky Wildcats?
On Friday, the sixth-seeded DePaul (25-8) is pitted against 11th-seeded James Madison (27-5,) the three-time champion of the Colonial Athletic Association---in their first-round game at 11 am (CT) Friday in at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Jenkins will be matched by the CAA Player of the Year, 6'2 Jazmon Gwathmey, who's averaging 21 points per game. This will be the 11th NCAA appearance for James Madison and third in a row.
“James Madison is a big and athletic team,” Bruno said in a press statement. “Their point guard Angela Mickens (11 points, seven assists a game) runs the team and they have a two-guard in Ashley Perez (14.1 points) who lit up West Virginia for 33 points this season with 12 three-pointers. This is going to be a big challenge for our team.”
The Blue Demons have been road warriors this season, which may enhance their chances in the NCAA tournament. They went 12-3 away from McGrath-Phillips Arena including a perfect 9-0 in conference.
“We actually had a better record on the road this year,” Jenkins said in a press statement. “It seems like we are more focused on the road and play with more of a competitive edge away from home. Because of that, I think we are really ready to achieve our goal.”
How far can they actually go? “We’ve had some good wins over nationally ranked teams like Texas A&M, Northwestern and Seton Hall,” Bruno said. “That shows we can be a really good team. Again, it will all come down to doing the little things.”
Tags: 2016 Women's NCAA, Angela Mickens, Ashley Perez, Chanise Jenkins, Doug Bruno, Geno Auriemma, James Madison University, Jazmon Gwathney, John Calipari, Megan Podkowa, NCAA Women, University of Kentucky Wildcats