Estero, FL -- The No. 18 DePaul Blue Devils will advance in the Gulf Coast Showcase with a 77-69 win over the Western Kentucky Lady Toppers on Friday afternoon at Germain Arena. DePaul was led by senior guard Jessica January who recorded 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. January and the Blue Demons will face the Baylor Lady Bears in Game 7 on Saturday, November 26, at 5:00 pm.
“I think we’re getting better as a team,” January said. “We just wanted to come out here and have fun. Western Kentucky was a really good team, and this was a really big win for us. They showed how good they can play and I think we did a good job pulling it out.”
DePaul grabbed the first points of the game with two free throws by January. After a minute and a half of play, Western Kentucky got themselves on the board with a jumper from senior guard Kendall Noble.
Following a little back and forth action, the Lady Toppers went on a 7-0 run, hitting 5-of-6, while the Blue Demons went 0-for-6. January ended DePaul’s nearly three-minute scoring drought with a three-pointer, shadowed by another three from junior guard Ashton Millender.
“Offensively we’re still a work in progress because we’re still getting to know each other,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. “So each possession is like a different adventure. And some offensive possessions we were really cohesive and other offensive possessions we were not.”
The game started well for Western Kentucky as the team shot 42 percent from the field, compared to DePaul’s 25 percent efficiency. While DePaul is known for shooting and draining a high amount of three-pointers, they struggled early in the game as they couldn’t connect, but the Lady Toppers hit 3-of-6 three-pointers.
By the end of the first period, Western Kentucky junior forward Tashia Brown led all scorers with seven points, giving the Lady Toppers a 19-15 advantage after the first 10 minutes of play.
Once again the Blue Demons put up the first points of the quarter, this time with a jumper from senior forward Jacqui Grant. However, Western Kentucky forced DePaul into another scoring drought, holding the Blue Demons to hitting just 1-of-7 from the field before Grant finally sunk a three-pointer.
The Lady Toppers quickly responded with a three of their own from sophomore guard Jaycee Coe, evening the score 28-28 halfway through the second quarter. DePaul gained control on a 9-0 run in a little under two minutes, and finished the half with a 39-36 advantage behind January’s 13 points, four rebounds, and four assists.
“I thought Jacqui settled down and had a much better game after the first initial minutes,” Bruno said. “We got them going pretty well; it's just still such a work in progress.”
January continued her hot hand in scoring, getting the Blue Demons on the board in the first minute. She followed up by taking a hard foul from Noble and getting to the free-throw line, where she added two more points for the DePaul. One player DePaul has consistently been able to count on has been January, and she was not letting up against Western Kentucky.
Lady Topper junior forward Ivy Brown recorded her first double-double of the season -- and tied the game up at 47-47 -- after driving in for a layup, drawing the foul, and hitting a free throw.
The game remained close throughout the entire third quarter, with DePaul shooting 38 percent, and Western Kentucky shooting 39 percent. Nineteen points and five rebounds from January gave the Blue Demons a 61-56 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
“Jessica January is really a special player,” Bruno said. “She’s one of the best players in the country. She’s keeping us together as we’re starting to piece everything else together. Her leadership, her toughness, is really something special.
Western Kentucky quickly cut their deficit to three with a layup from Noble in the first 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. During a vital time in the game, however, DePaulhad three of its starters in foul trouble early therefore not playing as aggressive which allowed the Lady Toppers to get back in the game.
Five minutes in, the Blue Demons started running a full court press, though, which contributed to the Lady Toppers two and a half minute scoring drought.
“You gotta defend, you gotta rebound, you gotta be intelligent about putting the other team on the free throw line,” Bruno said. “As the game went along we did enough down the stretch to bring home the game.
A sharp three-pointer by sophomore guard Sidnee Bopp ended the drought for Western Kentucky, but DePaul stayed on top throughout the remainder of the final minutes of the game. January led all scorers with 25 points, six rebounds, and seven assists as DePaul advanced in the Gulf Coast Showcase with a 77-69 victory.
“I think we kind of had a rough game; we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to defensively and offensively we just are still feeling our way out,” January said. “Towards the end, we stayed aggressive; we didn’t let the way that our offense was going deter us from scoring the ball.”
The Blue Demons will advance in the showcase to play the Baylor Lady Bears tomorrow at 5 pm ET.
“We’re excited,” January said. “We don’t really get the chance throughout the season to play a ranked team. So it’s going to be fun, they're a really good team.”
“If you want to be the best you gotta play the best,” January said. “You gotta trust yourself against the best. We’ve got firsthand knowledge of how good they are.”