DePaul Women in 8th Straight NCAA Tournament

CHICAGO- Road maps can be interesting to look at. Any place you want to drive to likely has various, interesting routes that will take you there. And while most everyone enjoys a leisurely drive in the summer, travel in the winter, especially in the Midwest, often proves a difficult journey.

And now in March, with the weather warming a bit, college basketball fans turn and look to see how their favorite teams fared during that winter journey. For some teams, it was a trip that would have been better with the vehicle left back in the driveway. For others, the trip isn't finished just yet.

Count the 2009-10 DePaul Blue Demons women's basketball team in the latter category.

The Blue Demons estimated time of arrival is 12:11 EST Sunday at Cincinnati's Cintas Center where 11th seeded DePaul takes on sixth seeded Vanderbilt (22-10).

The teams are two of 13 teams that have qualified for the NCAA tournament the past eight years. DePaul and Vanderbilt meet for the seventh time overall, but for the first time since 1998. The Commodores lead the series 4-2 while DePaul won the 1998 meeting 89-67. DePaul is 1-1 versus sixth seeds.

"I am really proud of our players," DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. "They are overcoming the adversity of losing two senior guards in China Threatt and Deirdre Naughton. Every season has a life of its own, and it's all about how the players respond. Sam Quigley and Felicia Chester were great leaders for this young team, and then the young players stepped up such as Keisha Hampton, Anna Martin and Katherine Harry."

And as with any arduous road trip, it helps to have plenty of available drivers.

"Players off the bench like Jen Juergens, Taylor Pikes, Maureen Mulchrone and Deanna Ortiz, they all had to step up," Bruno said.

Co-captains Quigley and Chester were not only great leaders, but glass-half-full types as well.

"[Felicia] and I stepped up and we told the younger people that everything was going to be fine and to relax," Quigley said. "We kept them positive and helped them understand that we are in this together, and that is was not the end of the world."

DePaul (21-11, 9-7 Big East), ranked third in the Big East conference pre-season poll, started off the season well enough, going 4-0 and the Blue Demons' AP All-America candidate Naughton capturing tournament MVP honors at the inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic.

But the team's fortune then took a U-turn with Naughton lost for the season with a torn right ACL in the team's fifth game, a 59-55 loss at Northwestern.

A road trip out West garnered mixed results with a 96-60 loss at #2 Stanford followed by the Blue Demons beating #10 ranked Florida State en route to winning the Duel in the Desert tournament in Las Vegas. Freshman Martin was named to the All-Tournament team and Quigley voted the tournament's MVP.

Then came the struggle that is Big East basketball.

A 63-60 loss at Rutgers, a 64-57 OT loss at #22 ranked West Virginia, and a 17-point loss at home to St. John's left DePaul with an 11-7 record. A 70-66 loss at Providence had the Blue Demons at a potential dead end.

Losses to #1 Connecticut and #4 Notre Dame followed, and it appeared that DePaul would need to find another gear if it hoped to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Shift to overdrive.

Juergen's 16 points off the bench propelled DePaul to a 72-63 win at Marquette. A home contest versus Pittsburgh saw Chester's double double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, Hampton's 24 points and Quigley's 11 assists help DePaul beat the Panthers 68-57.

But perhaps the game that turned this season in the right direction was the following game versus Syracuse at home. With both teams harboring a shot at the Big Dance, DePaul's fortunes this year may well have hinged on that game.

Anything left in the tank at this point in the season? Plenty.

With DePaul down 35-29 to Syracuse at the half, Bruno asked his team "Do you want to play in the NCAA or do you want to play in the NIT?"

Martin gave her answer in the form of 31 points off the bench as DePaul beat the Orange 74-71 and won its third game in a row.

Martin spoke of her thoughts when she signed to play basketball at DePaul.

"I looked at coming to DePaul like I was coming to play behind Deirdre Naugton, and I was so excited to learn from her. And what unfortunately happened to her, I knew I had to step up and it was adversity that our whole team had to deal with."

As this season continues for the DePaul Blue Demons, their license plate might read "Driven."

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