By Roderick Diamond II
For the third consecutive year, DePaul University hosted the Big East Conference women’s basketball tournament at Wintrust Arena March 6-9.
The prize, as usual, a tournament championship and an automatic pass to the NCAA Women’s Tournament. DePaul would be attempting their first three-peat in tournament history.
The tournament kicked off with 8 seed Providence College and 9 seed Georgetown University battling for the opportunity to play 1 seed DePaul in the quarterfinals. The game played to a close finish from beginning to end. Providence held the lead for 37 minutes and didn’t look back after securing a 49-46 win against Georgetown.
Alyssa Geary was the leading scorer for Providence with 15 points and a career high with six blocked shots. Taylor Barnes of Georgetown had a game high of 25 points. But it wasn’t enough to propel the Hoyas over the Friars. Providence won the battle in the paint with 20 points and outscored Georgetown’s bench with 19 points.
“I think that coach tests a lot, and tells us to let the ball come to you,” Geary said. ” I really didn’t try to block anything and the ball just came into my hands and I knew what I needed to do.”
The following match-up between 10 seed Xavier College and 7 seed Villanova University went past regulation time for an extra 5 minutes to decide who faced 2 seed Marquette University. The game only had two lead changes and was tied 9 times. But with their tournament lives on the line, Xavier’s Aaliyah Dunham took the battle into overtime with a buzz-beating three.
The only overtime game of the weekend, the Villanova Wildcats outscored the Musketeers 15-7 in OT. Junior point guard Raven James played a nearly perfect game from beyond the arc, going 6 for 7. Overtime play secured the win for the Wildcats. James led the game in points with 20 points and teammate Mary Gedaka added 19 points.
“Through the whole game I just knew where the sweet spot was for me and that was the right side of the wing”, James said. “My teammates found me in the spots where I like to shoot it and they just keep telling to shoot the ball and I was ready.”
Four games were slated for Saturday as the quarterfinals were set. DePaul started the tournament defense against Providence to lead off the day. So began DePaul’s dominance throughout the tournament.
DePaul shot for over 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc with 15 threes made. The Blue Demons outscored the Friars every quarter and scored 97 points to their opponents 59. The star of this matchup was Deja Church with her performance of 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
Forward Chante Stonewall chipped in with 16 points as well and Dee Bekelja added 14 points off the bench as a sixth woman punch for DePaul.
“Its been 15 days since we won a game and honestly this feels good for us,” Church said. “But win or lose, we are excited to get back in the gym and work.”
The next matchup posted a similar result between Seton Hall and Butler University. They both ended the regular season facing off and Seton Hall won 66-53. The teams had similar records and the winner faced DePaul on Sunday.
From the beginning of the tip to the final buzzer, Seton Hall commanded the game and took it to a 83-57 rout of the Butler Bulldogs. The Seton Hall Pirates had four players grab double-digit points and the game nearly tripled Butler’s bench performance with 21 points. Seton Hall also scored 16 threes and finished the game with 50 percent from the three point line.
Alexis Lewis of Seton Hall finished with a team high of 20 points. Her teammate Shadeen Samuels had a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Lauren Park-Lane also 17 points herself to contribute to the cause.
“Our girls earned this win tonight and we are excited to be in the final four of the Big East and we look forward to competing against a great team tonight,” said Coach Tony Bozzella.
Marquette and Villanova faced off later that evening for a spot in the semifinals. Marquette, as the second seed, proved why the Gold Eagles are one of the top teams in the Big East. The last time the players met, Villanova got the W on their schedule, winning 61-47.
As the blowouts continued that night, Marquette delivered a a 72-59 win against Villanova. Marquette dominated the paint and that was one of the major keys to their victory – 36 points in the paint and 19 points from the free-throw line for Marquette.
Selena Lott filled up the stat sheet for her team with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals.
Lott also owned the free-throw line with 11 of her 17 points coming from there. Jordyn King added 14 points and Lauren Van Kleunen scored 12 points to aid in the win.
“I thought our team was able to keep our composure when Villanova continued to make different runs throughout the game,” said Coach Megan Duffy. “I just said can’t tell how proud I am of this overall group for making individual plays whether it was on the defensive end or offensive end to get this win tonight.”
The nightcap concluded with Creighton University versus St.John’s University. The winner in this game faced Marquette in the semifinals. The Red Storm had battled against the Bluejays on Valentine’s Day and won 77-70.
Creighton hit the court with the Big East Player of the Year Jaylyn Agnew but it wasn’t enough to move on as they fell to St. John’s 70-54. Creighton did capture a 15-point lead heading into the second quarter but everything changed as St. John’s fought back with a 25-10 second quarter that brought the score to 30-30 at the half. Momentum was on the Red Storm’s side the rest of the way.
Freshman Leilani Correa led the team in points and rebounds off the bench with her 27 points and 11 rebound double-double. Correa and Kadaja Bailey, who had 8 points, composed all of St. John’s 35 bench points. St. John’s also created 21 points off turnovers.
“Once I started shooting more and my teammates looking for me more, I became the hot hand,” Correa said. “Then everything started to go in, but it wasn’t just me everyone was playing hard, and when the adrenaline is going you just make shoots and layups.”
The semi-finals were set with the top 4 seed teams all advanced to the third day of the Women’s Big East Tournament. The defending champs started the day against Seton Hall and the winner advanced to the finals. The last time Seton Hall played in the finals was in 1995 when the Pirates faced former Big East member Connecticut College.
In a hard fought game for the entire 40 minutes, DePaul edged out Seton Hall 83-80. DePaul led the way for the majority of the game but Seton Hall continued to fight back. The Pirates destroyed the paint with 52 points under the basket, but the Blue Demons continued to scorch the outside 14 three pointers.
Sophomore Lexi Held finished the game with a team high 22 points and added two steals. But DePaul played by committee and had Stonewall with 18 points and added 16 points from Kelly Campbell. One of the closer games of the tournament but DePaul advanced to their 4th straight Big East final.
“I am just proud of our players starting to grasp and understand what postseason basketball is all about,” said DePaul Coach Doug Bruno. “Its about one possession and just battling and executing the little things.”
The following matchup between Marquette and St.John’s ended the day. The winner landed the rights to play DePaul in the championship game on Monday. Marquette has been in the last three championship games and St. John’s made a finals appearance last in 2016.
Marquette controlled the game for the entire 40 minutes. They held the lead for nearly 39 minutes. They out rebounded the St. John’s 41-25 and dominated the paint with 52 points. Along with that Marquette beat out the Red Storm in second chance and fast break points.
The game crowned Selena Lott and Isabelle Spingola from Marquette as the stars. Spingola recorded a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Selena Lott created another stellar performance with 18 points and Marquette pulled out a confident win 78-55.
“Its a very excited locker room to be coming back tomorrow to play for a championship,” Coach Duffy said.
The final matchup set DePaul against Marquette and marked the fourth consecutive time the teams met in the finals.
The close first quarter ended in an 18-17 score but the Blue Demons pulled away as the game went on. DePaul won their third consecutive tournament championship. Once again their three point shooting dominated in every game and couldn’t be stopped.
Lexi Held proved herself as the tournament’s most outstanding player, and rightfully so. She scored a tournament high of 31 points to cap off her tournament performance. Senior Chante Stonewall ended her Big East tournament career with 22 points and a third ring.
“Its mean a lot [on winning most outstanding player], but I really couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Held said. “We worked really hard for this, its feels good to win and it feels good that I got the award but I really couldn’t have done it without my team and my coach.”
The Blue Demons set a Big East tournament record with 43 made threes throughout the weekend. This is DePaul University’s fifth tournament title and the three-peat is the longest winning streak since the Connecticut Huskies repeated win for 5 years straight between 2008 to 2012.
Photo at top: DePaul Blue Demons celebrate mid court under a cloud of confetti after winning their third straight Big East Tournament. (Roderick Diamond II/Medill)