With a key win over tournament 3-seed Florida State (75-60), DePaul is no slacker. The Chicago program also faced UConn and scored 62 to the unbeaten Huskies' 95. Common opponents include a win over Arkansas (46-45 OT) and loss to 2-seed Notre Dame (66-90) in South Bend.
Vandy starter Hannah Tuomi, at 6-1 the team's tallest player in regular rotation, missed last season's SEC and Sweet 16 due to a season-ending stress fracture. Since regaining her confidence and proving she can play at the level she did before, the post has averaged 14.2 points per game in the ‘Dores last five outings. She was a perfect 10 of 10 from the field against Florida in a 26-point performance. For the season she is third in scoring at 9.8 points per game behind sharpshooting senior guard Merideth Marsh (14.9 ppg) and floor leader Jence Rhoads (13.5 ppg). Hannah is definitely set on advancing through these early rounds.
"You only get four post-seasons in your collegiate career. Why waste those? It's exciting to be in the NCAA Tournament. How many people can say that? I'm happy with my play but it can always be better. Coming into this tourney we're going to be looking for more of a team effort. When you get into the NCAA, it's all about a great team and hopefully at this point in the season, that's where we're at – being a good team."
DePaul has six players ranging from 6-0 to 6-3 and is led by 6-2 Keisha Hampton (13.8 ppg) and 5-6 point guard Sam Quigley (13.1 ppg). The Blue Demons finished 21-11 and 9-7 in the Big East, tying for sixth place.
"They're going to be good rebounders," Hannah added. "We're going to have to work extra hard against bigger players, and being an undersized team, we're going to have to be quicker, smarter and more efficient than them."
DePaul's Quigley, who gained recognition for stepping up when the Blue Demons' pre-season "all everything" star Deirdre Naughton was lost for the season with a torn ACL, will contend with the ‘Dores' Merideth Marsh, who is tough enough in her own right. She relishes the underdog role.
And true to form, pundits aren't putting much faith in sixth seed Vanderbilt reaching the Sacramento Region. ESPN tabbed Merideth one of five players to watch in the early rounds – but of those teams that aren't expected to advance.
"I just want to lay it out there," Merideth said. "I have only this one season left," she said in describing the kind of work ethic she brings to the program. "I want my coaches and teammates to be able to know what they're going to get from me day in and day out. They're going to get hard work, dedication and passion every time I step out on the floor and I want them to respect that and know they can trust that I'm going to there."
Her words represent the heart and commitment of the entire squad at this stage. After a challenging SEC season, the team is tested against taller, more athletic programs. DePaul represents the next opportunity to prove this team is no underdog.
The Vanderbilt Commodores in the SECT locker room.