UConn returned to McGrath Arena for the first time since one of the more memorable finishes in UConn history in 2008.
Behind 27 points from senior guard Allie Quigley and 19 points from sophomore guard Deirdre Naughton, DePaul had opened a double digit lead going into halftime and led by as many as seventeen points in the second half. UConn battled back and point guard Renee Montgomery had a chance tie the game or put UConn ahead with 14 seconds left. Montgomery instead missed two of three free throw attempts and the rebound on her final shot bounced long into the arms of a DePaul guard with a clear path to the basket and her team headed toward an upset of #1 Connecticut.
Instead Maya Moore chased DePaul's Missy Mitidero down from behind, poked the ball free, and called timeout with seven seconds left after gaining position of the ball. After the timeout UConn's Ketia Swanier dribbled the ball the length of the court and made a layup with 1.6 seconds left. A play that gave UConn their first lead since the nine minute mark of the first half and sealed a 77 to 76 victory for UConn.
Not surprisingly, there was no need for similar last second heroics by UConn on Wednesday night.
DePaul is one of the few teams that will still look to push tempo against UConn and one of an even smaller group of teams that does so with any effectiveness. Wednesday night DePaul got behind UConn by ten points five minutes into the first half, but stayed in the game until the final minutes of the first half by making shots and not letting UConn open up one of their typical long runs. DePaul's grip on the game started to loosen at the end of the half and then what DePaul coach Doug Bruno called a "disaster" happened.
Maya Moore dropped in a three with less than thirty seconds left in the half to extend the UConn lead to seventeen. UConn got the ball back with eight seconds left and when Tiffany Hayes finally figured out that her teammates were yelling at her to shoot because the clock was running down, Hayes calmly launched a rainbow three from thirty feet out that swished through the net. After battling all half and making 48% of their shots DePaul went into the half down twenty points.
Hayes opened the second half scoring with another three and as usual UConn pushed the lead to thirty within the first few minutes of the second half behind eight quick points from Tina Charles. DePaul joined Stanford as the only teams to score sixty points against UConn this season and the only teams to shoot better than 40% against UConn this season. Despite shooting 46% against UConn DePaul only scored 62 points against UConn because of 25 turnovers. Defensively DePaul was aggressive and would hold UConn to an uncharacteristic seventeen assists on thirty-seven field goals, but couldn't stop UConn from making shots. DePaul would allow 95 points as the UConn players put the ball on the floor and penetrated to the basket.
DePaul came into the season with expectations for a very strong season. They returned four starters and some key players off the bench, but all three seniors on the roster have suffered season ending injuries including guards Deirde Naughton who led DePaul in scoring and assists last season and China Threatt who won the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year award last season. Those injuries have left Allie Quigley's younger sister Sam as DePaul's only experienced guard. The junior point guard has averaged over 38 minutes per game this season including over 40 minutes per game in Big East games.
Quigley, DePaul's leader in scoring and assists this season, led DePaul with fifteen points and five assists in 40 minutes against UConn. Her ability to step up and shoulder that load has been the key to DePaul remaining in contention for an NCAA tournament bid in spite of season ending ACL injuries to Naughton and Threatt. The road to the NCAA tournament does not get any easier for DePaul. On Sunday they play at Notre Dame in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
UConn versus St. John's Preview
One of the iconic images from last season was a surprised Renee Montgomery in her pink UConn shirt amongst a sea of fans in their pink shirts being inducted into the Huskies of Honor. Montgomery's induction was the first time an active player entered the Huskies of Honor, which recognizes all the UConn players that have been named to the a first team All-American by the WBCA, and Geno Auriemma took advantage of that first by keeping Montgomery from knowing that the honor was coming. Saturday Tina Charles, who like Montgomery made the WBCA team as a junior, will also be inducted in the Huskies of Honor before a game that will once again be UConn's Think Pink game and feature a full crowd.
Charged up by the emotions of the ceremony last year, UConn rolled over a ranked Pittsburgh team on the way to a 53 point win behind Montgomery's 20 points. This season St. John's will be entering into that emotionally charged environment. In addition to the pre-game ceremony for Charles UConn's five seniors will be playing their final game at Gampel Pavilion, UConn's on campus arena. For the most part, this UConn group has thrived in emotionally charged situations, but it will be interesting to see how they handle this one.
Last year UConn only won by thirteen points at St. John's. St. John's freshman and Connecticut native Da'Shena Stevens led the team with a twenty-seven points and St. John's never let the UConn lead reach twenty points.
In addition to returning the players that scored 56 of St. John's 64 points against UConn last season, St. John's has received a boost from a talented freshman class that includes the team's second leading scorer Shenneika Smith and the team's starting point guard Nadirah McKenith. The team is 20-4 this season and recently entered the Top 25 rankings, and celebrated being ranked for the second week in a row with an ice cream party.
Speaking after a 35 point win over Louisville St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico talked about her team and the upcoming game with UConn, "They don't know what they're going to be up against on Saturday. They have no idea, but that's okay as long as we keep doing our thing and worry about that next one after that. But for them it's going to be a great experience to just play up there in that atmosphere on that day and being in the situation that we are, and it will show them what the top team in the country looks like. We do have a ton of freshman so it's going to be a little bit of an eye opening experience for them, just to see how extremely hard (the UConn players) play on every possession and how talented they are at every position. So it will be difficult, but twenty wins is a big deal and I'm really extremely proud of them. If in the preseason you had told me that we would be 20 and 4 I'd say, 'If our freshman are doing what they are supposed, and right now they really are contributing big time.'"
St. John's has been successful by pressing and forcing turnovers, while limiting their own turnovers on offense. They are currently ranked 12th in Division I in turnover margin. That's a difficult way to try and stop UConn, but it should be another good test for UConn's guards to face another pressure team. St. John's also lacks a center and doesn't have a player taller than 6'2" so Tina Charles after playing a series of teams with big posts could have a big game on her big day.