Blue Demons Primed for NCAA Tournament Showdown Against Oklahoma
March 19, 2014
CHICAGO – Joined by a record crowd, the DePaul women’s basketball team discovered its NCAA tournament fate at a festive selection show party on Monday night at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
The Blue Demons already knew they were in the “Big Dance” by virtue of winning the BIG EAST tournament. What the ESPN telecast revealed was that they were seeded No. 7 and opening up against No. 10 seed Oklahoma (18-14) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Durham, N.C.
This is the 12th consecutive NCAA appearance for DePaul (27-6). Only eight other programs can make that distinction, putting the Blue Demons in the elite company of Connecticut, Duke, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
“Going to the NCAA tournament 12 years in a row starts with the great leadership of DePaul President Father Dennis H. Holtschneider and Director of Athletics Jean Lenti Ponsetto,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. “We have a coaching staff that I consider the best in the country. We have terrific student-athletes who have bought into the program, selflessly share the ball and have each other’s backs.
“I think this team has a chance to be special. Our players understand we define ourselves by what we do starting now. We’re going back to Durham where we played Oklahoma State last year. On Saturday we’ll play a good, strong, well-coached Oklahoma team that took Louisville to overtime in the Preseason WNIT title game.”
DePaul’s players began cheering when they saw their school name on the big-screen TV.
“It took us a few seconds to see our name up there and then we got excited,” said guard Megan Rogowski who is third in the nation in three-point percentage and fifth in three-pointers per game. “We can’t wait to play on Saturday. We’ve been talking all week about the NCAA tournament. No matter who we play, everyone in the tournament is good.
“Duke is an awesome place to play. The crowd is really into it. We know what to expect after being there last year. Hopefully, that will play to our advantage. Playing well defensively and rebounding will give us a chance to beat Oklahoma. Historically, that is a great program.”
The Sooners are making their 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and feature senior guard Aaryn Ellenberg who is averaging nearly 19 points per game. Junior Sharane Campbell averages 12.3 points while point guard Morgan Hook contributes 11.3 points and nearly five assists. Inside, 6-foot, 6-inch Nicole Griffin is putting up 10.2 points and six rebounds a game.
Oklahoma has outscored its opponents 76.8-67.8 per game and has beaten five NCAA tournament teams including Texas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Wichita State and Gonzaga.
“We are who we are,” Bruno said of his team that has won seven in a row and 16 of 17. “At this point in the year, you’ve just got to play. With Oklahoma, our styles are pretty similar. We both like to share the ball and score.
“Having played at Duke in last year’s NCAA tournament helps a little. But we weren’t there very long, and we’d like to stay a little longer this time. We’re going to play a Big 12 team again, and that’s a really strong league.”
Bruno’s program enters the tournament having already claimed one national title. On Tuesday, Inside Higher Ed announced that DePaul had won the academic national championship of the 64-team NCAA tournament field based on academic progress reports and graduation rate success.
DePaul’s leading scorer, senior Jasmine Penny (nearly 16 points a game), and freshman guard Jessica January come into the tournament from opposite ends of the spectrum. This will be January’s first NCAA tournament and Penny’s last.
“This is exciting to again be playing in the NCAA tournament,” said Penny who is 12th in the nation in field goal percentage. “I will try to be as good a leader as I can and take this team as far as we can go.
“After losing our NCAA opener last year, we need to come out ready to play and compete hard right from the get-go so we can advance. We have to be more ready to defend and rebound than we were last year.
“The difference this season is that Brittany Hrynko, Megan Rogowski, Chanise Jenkins, Megan Podkowa and myself all have more experience. We’ve been sticking together and looking out for each other all year.
“Every game I play could be my last, and I’ve had that mindset all year. Every game, I go out and do the best I can to win the game. Now, every win means I get to extend my career.”
As Penny’s career is winding down, January’s is just getting started.
“It’s an honor to play in my first NCAA tournament,” January said. “As a freshman, I wasn’t sure in the beginning where I would fit in this program. Now, everything has come together, and it’s both exciting and humbling to be playing in the tournament.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed about playing in the NCAA tournament and making a half-court shot at the buzzer. You watch the great teams like Connecticut, Tennessee and Notre Dame on TV, and now I’m realizing that I’m going to play in the same tournament with them.
“After winning the BIG EAST tournament, it hit me---you’re actually going to be playing for something even bigger. Everyone I know is going to watch our game on TV. My parents and family are making plans to try and come to Duke and watch me.”
Bruno knows what it will take for his team to advance.
“Everything starts with our backcourt---point guards Brittany and Chanise along with Megan Rogowski at shooting guard,” Bruno said. “Our forwards---Jasmine Penny and Megan Podkowa---make plays with guard skills. Another guard, Jessica January, is like a sixth starter for us. Centrese McGee, Kelsey Reynolds and Brandi Harvey-Carr give us valuable contributions off the bench.
“Our backcourt leaders Brittany and Chanise have to make positive plays for us. It’s that simple. Just make simple decisions in our offense.”
Hrynko, who led the BIG EAST in assists and steals, is ready to make the right moves.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in the tournament,” Hrynko said. “We’re looking forward to going back there. I know coach Bruno will do a great job of getting us prepared for Oklahoma.
“We became a better team as we improved our defense and rebounding. That will be huge for us in the tournament. Do we have momentum after winning the BIG EAST tournament---absolutely. But we still have to stay humble.”
Jenkins, second in assist/turnover ratio and third in the BIG EAST in assists, gives DePaul the luxury of dual playmakers.
“I am very excited about the NCAA tournament,” Jenkins said. “We enter after winning the conference tournament, and our confidence level is high.
“For us to advance, we need to play defense, rebound and play intelligently. If we do those three things, we have a chance to go far.”