Blue Demons Welcome the Next Big Challenge
March 13, 2012
CHICAGO - There may not be a better way to define DePaul athletics than the seven players who will be hustling through the pre-game layup line Saturday at Allstate Arena.
Losing five players to injuries was not enough to sabotage an inspiring Blue Demons team that scrapped and clawed its way into the 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship and will face BYU in its NCAA Regional opener.
As DePaul coach Doug Bruno took a moment to reflect, he recounted the long odds his players had beaten in going 22-10.
"We've had other years where our team had to overcome some serious injuries," Bruno said. "But never like this season when we lost a starting point guard in Chanise Jenkins, a WNBA Draft lottery pick in Keisha Hampton and our most improved rebounder in Taylor Pikes who was a BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year.
"I'm so proud of this group for fighting their way into the NCAA tournament. That's a tribute to the players. All seven of them could have cashed it in when the team was hit with that rash of injuries. Instead, they just rolled up their sleeves and went to work."
Anna Martin had the best season of her career en route to leading the BIG EAST Conference in scoring. Overall, the junior guard is averaging 19.1 points per game and hitting more than 40 percent of her three-point shots.
Katherine Harry (9.3 points, 9.6 rebounds) and Jasmine Penny (11.5 points) evolved into a tough tandem inside while freshman Brittany Hrynko jump-started her career assuming point guard and leadership responsibilities way before her time.
Deanna Ortiz fit in wherever the team needed her most, at times throwing her 5-foot, 10-inch frame into the fray down low where adversaries were half a foot taller.
"There were no excuses," Bruno said. "It's not what we do at DePaul. We're going to compete and fight.
"People have been patting us on the back and telling us how great we're doing given all the injuries. Hey, this is a bottom-line sport. It's about how well we are doing---period. All that matters is the final numbers up on the scoreboard. Your injuries don't show up on the scoreboard.
"Going against the odds when you're the shorthanded underdog---that's what our Magnificent Seven concept was all about. Remember that once the game gets underway, most teams stick to using seven or eight players."
Then again, most teams don't have three of their top five players just watching.
"You need to have an attitude from the top that feels empathy for the injured players," Bruno said. "But at the same time, you can't allow the healthy players to feel sorry for themselves. It's a delicate balance.
"You don't want to discard the injured players, but you have to deal with the reality of what you have left."
That included the logistical problems. How do you practice with just seven players? To better simulate game conditions, Bruno assembled a group of male practice players to go against his team.
"I have to thank the male practice players who have made a big contribution to our success," Bruno said. "They deserve a ton of credit.
"You run into situations where one of our two post players has to come out in the middle of a game. You count on someone like 5-9 Anna Martin to guard a post player or go inside and score. We've had to use Deanna inside. When you're that shorthanded, that's when it really gets rocky.
"We started to turn it around with our post players. Katherine and Jasmine have elevated their games. Katherine at 6-3 is not the biggest post player, and Jasmine is undersized at 5-11."
BYU (26-6) won the West Coast Conference tournament and is led by senior point guard Haley Steed, who is averaging nearly nine points and more than seven assists per game.
The Cougars' strong inside game features 6-3 Kristen Riley (11.4 points, eight rebounds a game), 6-7 Jennifer Hamson (9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 74 blocked shots) and 6-1 Dani Peterson. Guards Lexi Eaton and Kim Parker combine for more than 20 points per game.
BYU is averaging 71.6 points while holding opponents to 56.8. The Cougars have a 192-71 advantage in blocked shots and out-rebound their opposition by five per game.
"BYU has a really good point guard in Haley Steed," Bruno said. "The Cougars have good size and a good inside game. They shoot the three-pointer often and extremely well and average close to 20 assists a game.
"That's a very efficient offense to guard with good post play, three-point shooting and an excellent point guard."
It's the next hurdle in a very challenging season.
"I don't feel like we've totally come together yet," Bruno said. "We have shown signs of it along the way. We've had our moments.
"But we haven't evolved yet into a team that consistently comes together."
No better time for that to happen than Saturday at Allstate Arena.