DePaul Women Gather 9th Straight NCAA Berth

The contributions have been many for the DePaul Blue Demons.

The leadership of fifth-year seniors Sam Quigley and Felicia Chester; Keisha Hampton playing like Keisha Hampton; Deirdre Naughton and China Threatt overcoming knee injuries; Taylor Pikes' energy off the bench; Anna Martin and Katherine Harry evolving from their superlative frosh campaigns; Deanna Ortiz' key threes; Maureen Mulchrone's minutes off the bench; Jen Juergens' grittiness before a season-ending injury, and freshman Jasmine Penny gaining valuable Big East experience.

And contributions equal results.

Pre-season WNIT runner-up; a win over then-No. 2 Stanford; first D1 women's team to reach 20 wins; a fourth consecutive 20-win season; a program-best No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament; a program-best No. 7 AP poll ranking, and a home win streak of 19 games.

And contributions and results amount to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and a trip to University Park, PA, to face No. 14 seed Navy this Saturday afternoon.

No. 9/12 DePaul (27-6, 13-3 Big East) gathered its highest NCAA seed in program history, eclipsing the No. 4 seed awarded to the 2005-06 team that reached the Sweet 16. DePaul is making its ninth straight NCAA tournament appearance and is one of 13 teams to have reached the tournament in each of the last eight years.

But the first round has not been kind to DePaul in recent years.

The Blue Demons, 4-9 in the tournament in their last eight appearances and losers in the first round in each of the last four years, embrace the challenge of advancing past the initial round.

"We look that in the face and we look at it as a positive," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "Since we can't rewrite our scripts, we look at those four years as great experiences for our players."

Having five seniors on this year's squad, including sixth year senior Deirdre Naughton, should help with the challenge.

"Since the day we lost last year [to Vanderbilt in overtime] it has been something we have talked about every single day," Naughton said. "It is what has motivated us every day to work. The NCAA tournament is totally unlike any other kind of basketball tournament that we experience. It is a nerve-racking time and all five of us seniors have gone through it. I think I can bring a lot of ease to the younger girls and calm their nerves a little bit."

And even though a loss in the semi-finals of the Big East tournament was not the end of the regular season the team had hoped for, DePaul and its leading scorer may be playing its best basketball right now.

"I think [this is the best I have played at DePaul] only because I am more experienced and know more about the game," said unanimous Big-East First Team selection Keisha Hampton. "We are having a great season and we are playing great team ball right now."

Hampton's teammate and Big East Sixth Man of the Year, Taylor Pikes, agrees.

"I never thought I would be at this point, to be mentioned as Sixth Man Player of the Year. But getting that award and seeing how good we are doing this year, I think we are playing the best basketball [this year]."

Every team that DePaul lost to this year made the tournament. The Big East sent a record nine teams, including No. 1 seed Connecticut, also in DePaul's bracket, to the tournament.

The Blue Demons and Navy (20-11, Patriot League champions) will meet for the first time on Saturday. The only opponent common to both teams this year is the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a loser to both.

The Midshipmen, a young team with two seniors, place four players in double figures led by Angela Myers and her 12.1 ppg. Navy averaged 58.1 ppg while holding its opponents to an average of 53.6 ppg. Navy shoots 39% from the field, 34% from behind the arc and 65% from the free throw line.

The two teams tip off Saturday 30 minutes after the completion of the Penn St. (24-9, No. 6 seed) and Dayton (21-11, No. 11 seed) game which starts at 10:10 a.m. CDT. The winners of those two games face each other on March 21 at University Park.

DePaul University will have a send-off for its players this Thursday in front of the DePaul Athletic Center with the time yet to be determined.

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