- Scored a record-setting combined 204 points with Oklahoma in the Round of 64
- Beat a hungry, frustrated Duke women’s team in the Round of 32 by relying on outside shooting and stone-cold defense
Is it now time to ‘boldly go’ where no DePaul Blue Demon team has gone…male or female…since the days of Ray Meyer?
If they beat Texas A&M, a runner-up in the NCAA 2011 Championship, they make history.
At 6 p.m. on Saturday, Brittany Hrynko and her teammates take on No. 3 seed Texas A&M (26-8) in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 at Lincoln, Neb. in hopes of advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.That game will be televised by ESPN.
No. 7 seed DePaul (29-6) has won nine in a row, 18 of its last 19 and is playing its best basketball at the most important time of the season.
That was evidenced in last Monday’s 74-65 victory over No. 2 seed Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium when the Blue Demons connected on a season-high 14 three-pointers.
“With three-pointers, we look to balance the threes with opening up things to drive,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “Brit (Hrynko) and Chanise Jenkins did a great job penetrating into the paint and drawing the defense before passing it back out.
“Our players have done a great job of allowing themselves to be coached. It’s the better decisions that Chanise and Brit are making. Watching the growth of the team is so rewarding.
“This group has a chance to be the most productive team we’ve ever had. We’ve gone to the Sweet 16 twice before. Let’s see if this group can take it to the Elite Eight. We are still a work in progress, but we’re starting to get there now at just the right time of the season against some of the better teams in the country.”
It won’t be easy. Texas A&M cruised past James Madison 85-69 last Tuesday with 23 points from 6-foot, 1-inch Courtney Williams, 20 points and 15 rebounds from 6-5 Karla Gilbert and 16 assists from point guard Jordan Jones. Courtney Walker contributed 18 points.
Walker, Williams and Gilbert average between 15 and 11 points per game while Gilbert pulls down more than seven rebounds a game.
“Texas A&M is one of the top 12 teams in the country,” Bruno said. “They are very physical, big, quick and athletic and have a strong inside presence with Courtney Williams and Karla Gilbert. Running the show is point guard Jordan Jones who is averaging 7.5 assists.
“This is a great defensive team on the perimeter. It’s a great defensive team that is holding opponents to 26 percent shooting from three-point range. They will come at us hard on the perimeter and try to knock us around in the paint.
“You have to make shots happen. It’s the job of our coaching staff to get them open. This is a tough defense to get them open against.”
When the Blue Demons do get open, look out! They are converting 36 percent of their shots from long distance.
“The three-pointers—that’s DePaul ball,” Hrynko said. “Coach lets us shoot. We share the ball, and if you’re open, shoot it. There were some plays when Megan Rogowski would knock the shot down on Monday night and the Duke players would kind of hang their heads.”
Bruno recruits top-notch shooters and then provides them with what he calls the greenest green light in America.
“Take the shot as long as you’re open and it’s a good shot,” said Rogowski, who is among the nation’s leaders in three-point percentage. “Coach encourages you to take that shot. It’s about finding your shot and knocking it down. Chanise and Brit manipulated Duke’s zone defense and found three-point shooters open behind the arc.
“As long as you’re open and not forcing up a shot, go ahead and let it go. If it has a chance to go in, it’s a good shot.
“When Brit was making those threes from way out, you could see their frustration. You could see it in their faces and their body language. They thought they were guarding Brit, and then she hits those.”
DePaul’s 6-1 senior Jasmine Penny will have a big challenge going against Williams and Gilbert inside.
“It was amazing to me watching us come out and fight like that against Duke,” said Penny who is scoring 15.5 points a game AND is among the nation’s leaders in field goal percentage. “Being a senior, I know every game could be my last. I’m trying to come out strong every game so that we can go as far as possible in the tournament.”
That would mean overcoming a talented Aggies team.
“We are excited to play Texas A&M,” Jenkins said. “It will be up to us to defend, rebound and play intelligently for the entire 40 minutes.”
Teammate Megan Podkowa has a pretty good idea what it will take to make the Elite Eight.
Texas A&M has a very good defense,” Podkowa said. “Hopefully we’ll hit our shots and crash the boards. It would be great if we can become the first DePaul women’s basketball team in the Elite Eight.
“We have been to the Sweet 16 before. A win on Saturday would make this program even bigger than it already is.”