This year's DePaul women's basketball team chose the last answer for this entire season, down to the final game they played this year, a 63-48 loss to Tennessee (26-8) in second round NCAA tournament play at Allstate Arena on Monday night.
"[The only thing] coaches have a right to ask their players is to leave it on the floor, to make every effort that you can make to get the score to a happy place when the game ends," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno.
And for thirty minutes against second-seeded Tennessee, his team was moving forward to that happy place.
Playing a program as storied as the Lady Vols is, and getting beat by them 84-61 earlier this year, was forgotten by seventh-seeded DePaul as Anna Martin scored her team's first seven points and DePaul trailed 21-19 with 4:09 left in the half.
"When the game started, we just tried to be the aggressor and we could not play afraid of them," said Martin.
"It was very important for our players to execute the controllables such as running the floor, defending and not giving up easy baskets on the glass," said Bruno.
After falling behind 41-29 at the half in the first game against Tennessee, a 28-23 Lady Vols' halftime lead in this game was hardly what the orange-wearing crowd had expected and it was what the blue-wearing crowd had hoped for.
What DePaul and its faithful did not hope for was Martin picking up two first half fouls.
But sometimes adversity can be your best friend.
"We went in to this game really believing we could beat Tennessee," said Martin. "That is how we go in to every game. People doubt us, but we are a strong group and I think we proved that we are fighters and that really helped us with that mentality."
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's teams are known for strong defense and strong rebounding, and the Lady Vols did both of those things well in the second half.
Glory Johnson grabbed 10 of her game-high 21 rebounds in the second half as Tennessee started to dominate inside. Tennessee out rebounded DePaul 51-31, but every loose ball in the paint was a game unto itself.
"It was a surprise just how strong each one of their players were," said Johnson. "DePaul was a scrappy team and [no one] should underestimate them because of their size."
Katherine Harry exemplified that strength with seven rebounds. Her two blocked shots moved her into a tie for ninth place on DePaul's all-time blocked shots list.
Tennessee started the second half on a 9-2 run and eventually opened up a 42-29 lead on a Vicki Baugh (16 points) jumper with 11:43 left.
"We owe it to each other to fight every day and to the four seniors who gave [their all] for four years to help get us to this point," said Harry.
And one of those seniors is Deanna Ortiz.
Shekinna Stricklen's (team-high 17 points) three-pointer gave the Lady Vols a 51-39 lead as the cheers from the orange swelled.
Ortiz then nailed a jumper and followed with a three-pointer to cut Tennessee's lead to 53-46 with 2:21 left to play.
But Martin (game-high 20 points) fouling out with 2:15 left to play left DePaul (23-11) without its main scoring option and the Lady Vols went six-for-six from the line in the last two minutes to send them to the Sweet Sixteen.
It would be a mistake to have the final memory of this year's DePaul team be that of a squad that lost by fifteen points in its final game of the season.
Martin and Harry struggled with their composure after the game when talking about how much their effort was dedicated to their teammates and to Bruno.
Their coach had the final word on this magnificent season.
"I can't thank enough the determination that was displayed by our Magnificent Seven who put themselves in a position to wake up this morning and be one of only 32 teams left in the country and put themselves in a position this morning to fight to be one of only 32 teams left in the country. That is a tribute to these players."
DePaul Women Fall in NCAA Round Two
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