Megan Podkowa scored a game-high 23 points and all eight DePaul players who saw action scored as No. 9 seed DePaul beat No. 8 seed Minnesota 79-72 in NCAA Tournament first round action at the Purcell Pavilion.
The Golden Gophers were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1994. They had been to the Sweet 16 in 2003, 2004, and 2005, and to the Final Four in 2004. DePaul has been there 13 straight times.
Minnesota (23-10) led 12-6 early in the game as DePaul struggled through a stretch at that time, shooting 1-11 from the field and missing their last six field goals.
The Golden Gophers had their largest lead of the game at 47-32 with 17:10 to play. But just as Duke learned a lesson the hard way in last year's second round action, so too did Minnesota in this game: DePaul's pressure is relentless.
"It is tiring to go against that [press] the entire time and to not have a lot of depth," said Minnestoa coach Marlene Stollings.
"I think with 17 minutes left it is a game of runs," said Stollings. "We would have liked to have built upon our lead, but we knew they were going to make a run at some point, and the run continued on for most of the half."
DePaul (27-7) got a 3-pointer from the left corner from freshman Ashton Millender to cap a 22-4 run and it gave the Blue Demons a 56-53 lead at 9:19.
But that run was created by defense.
DePaul forced 28 turnovers for the game, a new NCAA Tournament record for DePaul opponents, to go along with 14 steals.
The Blue Demons led for just 12 minutes of this game.
DePaul was down 41-30 at the half, but even then, the team had a sense, with input from Bruno, that things would eventually turn its way.
"At halftime I told [the team] we were in a good place," said Bruno. "I thought Minnesota was exhausted, we were chasing [an 11-point deficit], we left lay ups on the table in the first half, and we shot 2-20 from with good looks from 3-point range.”
"Finally the pressure kicked in and the offensive execution in the second half was excellent."
The Golden Gophers held a practice at Williams Arena last week. The coaching staff brought in Sari Noga, who ranks fifth all-time at Minnesota in 3-pointers made, as a scout player on the team.
It can't be known if that contributed to DePaul shooting 8-34 from 3-point range for the game, a new DePaul NCAA Tournament record for most 3-pointers in a game, but the Blue Demons got key 3-pointers when they needed them.
Brittany Hrynko broke DePaul's all-time assist record of 672 held by Veronica Ross (1986-1990) on her assist on Podkowa's 3-pointer, which gave DePaul a 49-40 lead with 13:40 remaining. Podkowa's 3-pointer from the right wing gave DePaul its largest lead at 67-59 with 4:34 to play. Hrynko finished with 10 points, six assists, and four steals.
Brooke Schulte's foul line jumper at 6:03 of the first half gave DePaul a 26-25 lead, its first lead since 16:46. But Minnesota got a momentum boost when Carlie Wagner hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. Wagner then hit another 3-pointer for a 31-26 Minnesota lead before Hrynko tied Ross's assist record with a Podkowa jumper.
The Big 10 Player of the Year, Minnesota's 6'5" Amanda Zahui B., finished with a team-high 21 points and a game-high 22 rebounds. But she was visibly harassed by DePaul's pressure and the Blue Demons were able to execute their offensive plan and defensive plan against her size.
Schulte stripped Zahui B. in the post and fed Millender for a layup, as DePaul shot 4-4 from the field and forced four turnovers in the last 4:18 midway through the second half for a 49-44 lead. Schulte added 13 points and Millender seven off the bench.
"I think we all know that we can hit shots and we will make shots," said Podkowa. "All of our guards did a good job of getting into the lane and making Zahui B. come out and guard us."
To sum up this game in two sentences, DePaul's Chanise Jenkins (16 points and two steals) offered this after the game.
"We are very confident in our pressure. It is something we are going to keep doing and doing until we can't do it anymore."
DePaul plays No. 1 seed Notre Dame, a 77-43 winner over No. 16 seed Montana, on Sunday night.
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