DePaul Women's Stretch Run Begins Now

For many college basketball teams, a stretch run often connotes that final portion of play in late January through February, a push that can sometimes spell the difference between being invited to, or overlooked by, a certain tournament. For the DePaul women's basketball team, that stretch run may start much earlier, as in mid-December.

DePaul (7-2), which fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 this week for the first time this season, is about to embark on a road trip that should not only tell coach Doug Bruno a lot about his young squad, but is one that could be a turning point in whether the Blue Demons get an eighth straight NCAA tournament bid or not. The six-game road trip includes three teams that are ranked in the AP Top 25 or are receiving votes in the poll.

The Blue Demons lost senior guard Deirdre Naughton in late November to a torn right ACL. Naughton, a Wooden Trophy candidate, All-Big East Team nominee, and Maggie Dixon Classic tournament MVP, is lost for the season. The Blue Demons start junior guards Sam Quigley (11.6 ppg and 5.1 apg) and Jen Juergens (10.3 ppg), junior forward Felicia Chester (10.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg), sophomore forward and pre-season All-Big East Team nominee Keisha Hampton (13.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg), and freshman guard Anna Martin (10.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg). DePaul has gotten a strong performance off the bench from freshman forward Katherine Harry (5.9 ppg and 6.3 rpg).

"It's a formidable task and a difficult task," said Bruno of his team's upcoming trip. "Hopefully we will first be able to compete and then let the competitiveness grow [our] confidence."

Here is the itinerary for Bruno and his team for December and the first week of January:

December 13th, at #2 Stanford (6-0)

"What makes Stanford so difficult to play against is that they have great size, and they also have magnificent guard play," said Bruno. And size the Cardinal has in spades.

Led by returning PAC-10 Player of the Year Jayne Appel, the Cardinal doesn't stop with its 6'4" senior forward, who is averaging 13.8 ppg and 9.5 rpg. Stanford also throws 6'4" junior Kayla Pedersen (20.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg) and 6'2" sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogumike (19.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg) into the mix. One of those three players has led the Cardinal in scoring and/or rebounding in each game this year. Stanford has outrebounded their opponents by an average margin of 48-30, and the Cardinal shoot 47% from the field.

"Katherine Harry will be severely tested against the size and strength of the players at Stanford," said Bruno.

And as Bruno notes, it is not just the size that makes Tara VanDerveer's club function as well as it does. Junior guard Jeanette Pohlen averages 12.6 ppg and 4.6 apg and is part of a group that shoots 35% from beyond the arc.

"We know that Stanford is a great team and one of the top two teams in the country," said Chester. "We are definitely looking to compete with them. [With] these first nine games that we have played, we have been trying to play to the level of Stanford."

Stanford has garnered 22 straight NCAA tournament appearances and eight Final Four appearances, including Final Fours in 2008 and 2009.

December 19th-21st, Duel in the Desert Tournament, Las Vegas

The Duel features UNLV, Kansas State, Florida State, Hawaii, Virginia Commonwealth, UT-San Antonio, Arkansas, and DePaul.

DePaul's first game in the tournament is on December 19th versus Arkansas (5-1). The Razorbacks, while not ranked, put a scare into #16 Oklahoma this past Saturday before losing 87-86 in overtime.

Coach Tom Collen has gotten excellent guard play from this year's team, led by senior Charity Ford (12.5 ppg and 3.2 rpg) and sophomore Lyndsay Harris (11.3 ppg and 3.2 rpg). 6'3" freshman forward Sarah Watkins (10.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg) rounds out the Razorbacks' firepower.

Arkansas, which last year beat then #15 Florida 70-59, shoots 47% from the field and has outscored their opponents this year by an average of 74-66.

December 20th, #12 Florida State (8-0) or UT-San Antonio

The Seminoles have been outrebounding their opponents 42-31 and outscoring them 78-54 on average this year. Led by 6'5" senior forward Jacinta Monroe (14.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg), FSU is shooting 46% from the floor. Monroe gets plenty of help in the scoring department from senior forward Alysha Harvin (11.1 ppg and 5.3 rpg) and junior guard Courtney Ward (10.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg).

UT-San Antonio (4-2) has four players averaging double figures in scoring and the team is shooting 38% from beyond the arc. The Roadrunners have outscored their opponents by 44 points in the first half and eight points in the second half of games this season.

DePaul's opponent on December 21st has yet to be determined.

December 28th, at Illinois State (5-2)

Kristi Cirone and her 16.6 ppg are gone from the Redbirds' lineup, but ISU returns guard Maggie Krick (19.8 ppg and 6.4 rpg, 40% three-point shooting) and forward Ashleen Bracey (12.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg) from a team that finished 27-8 last year, losing to Kansas 75-72 in the WNIT semifinals. ISU beat UCLA 61-55 on the road earlier this year.

DePaul is 3-0 versus ISU in the last three years with DePaul winning at home 90-64 in 2006, 80-75 away in 2007 and 80-68 at home in 2008.

January 2nd, at Rutgers (6-4)

Head coach C. Vivian Stringer has won over 825 games in her career in part by playing ranked teams early and using that experience to toughen her club up come NCAA tournament time. Games so far against Stanford and Texas, though both losses, have helped fulfill the first part of that equation.

And part of what has helped the Scarlet Knights reach five consecutive NCAA regional semifinal appearances has been her team's trademark defense. Rutgers has held opponents to an average of 55.7 ppg this season to go along with 9.1 steals per game.

Rutger's offense this year is of the stealth variety with senior guard Brittany Ray (15.6 ppg and 2.6 rpg) the only player averaging in double-figure scoring. The Scarlet Knights do, however, have five players who average 6.0 ppg or better.

DePaul is 2-2 versus Rutgers in regular season conference play since joining the Big East in 2005. The Blue Demons lost the inaugural game 67-57 in 2005, won the following year 87-73, lost the next year 60-46, and then upset the then-ranked Scarlet Knights 60-58 last year.

And what does DePaul have on their schedule after this road trip? #1 UConn, #3 Notre Dame, #15 Pittsburgh, Syracuse (8-0 and receiving AP votes), West Virginia (7-1 and receiving votes), and St. John's (7-1 and receiving votes) as part of Big East play.

For some schools, the stretch run never ends.

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