When sixth-seed DePaul defeated third-seed Louisville Sunday afternoon in Louisville, the win was dubbed an upset because the Cardinals were the home team (and the higher seed). The fact that the Blue Demons had to hang on for the one-point win (after seeing its 9-point third-quarter lead dissipate in the last quarter) added to the feeling that what DePaul accomplished was somewhat of a miracle.
But if you dig a little deeper, you find that DePaul is a team that knows how to win on the road. They’ve won 11 straight road games this season and very well could have been seeded higher by virtue of their performance against three number-one seeds this year. Though they lost to Connecticut, Baylor, and Notre Dame, the average margin of victory was only 11 points, and DePaul averaged 77 points against those three stingy teams. Coach Doug Bruno put together what he termed a “murderer’s row schedule” to help prepare for tournament time, and it is paying dividends.
The Blue Demons are a high-octane offense that scores points in bunches. Their defense isn’t shabby either. On Sunday, DePaul kept ahead of Louisville and held off the Cardinals’ inevitable run by showing lots of poise and confidence on the offensive end, and by grabbing defensive rebounds when they counted.
“We have a system that knows how to slice and dice good defensive teams,” said DePaul coach Dough Bruno earlier in the season. “But you have to keep the ball moving.”
Junior guard Jessica January scored 18 of her season-high 25 points in the first half. (She averaged 13.6 points per game during the regular season). Her final point on the second of two free throws with less than 15 seconds to play was the margin of victory. The 5-7 junior guard also had five assists and a team-high eight rebounds.
“I thought she was the difference in the ball game, especially in the first half,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “She’s the one that really put pressure on us, and she made some tough shots.”
January is the kind of player Bruno loves to coach. He has won more than 600 games with DePaul in the last 30 years and hasn’t changed his style of coaching a whole lot in that time. He explains that DePaul doesn’t get a lot of “high-powered post players” so he continues to recruit guards that can shoot the 3, dribble-drive, and dish the ball. His guards and forwards are relentless in spacing the floor, working the give and go, and finding the open player.
This is Bruno’s fourth Sweet Sixteen in his 30-year career as DePaul’s coach, the third since 2011. To get to each of those recent Sweet Sixteens, DePaul defeated the higher seed on that team’s home court in the second round.
Bruno has never won in the round of 16. DePaul lost to LSU in 2006, Duke in 2011, and Texas A&M in 2014. This year’s opponent will be second-seeded Oregon State, which has had a pretty easy road to the Dallas regional. But Oregon State will be playing a team of road warriors when they face off next weekend. And this time, the crowd might be cheering for the underdogs.