DePaul coach inspires gritty team

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO -- Doug Bruno was in no mood for consolation.

The DePaul coach was in no mood to be reminded that Kentucky's two Chicago-bred freshmen scored a combined 18 of their 28 points in the second half of the No. 5 Wildcats' 96-85 victory over the Blue Demons Thursday night.

And he was in no mood to be told his team is smart or gritty or could have won another game they could have won.

Just as Bruno did not care that his team came back to make a game of it against Northwestern a week and a half ago after trailing 27-2 before losing by three and dropping out of the top 25; it did not matter to him that the Demons were only down four at the half at Notre Dame in another loss five days before that.

"I just think we're two games away from being a top 10 team," he said, referring to their losses to Northwestern and now Kentucky.

Turning to reporters, the lovably passionate Bruno pleaded, "Maybe I'm wrong . . . you've got UConn, who's off the charts and they have seven pros and they should win the whole thing, they really should. Then you've got Duke, who has got a lot of talent and then you have Tennessee. But the rest of us, what's the difference? Am I crazy? Do I think we're better than we are?"

Maybe, maybe not, but even Bruno had to admit that the Wildcats' depth alone makes them particularly troublesome.

Even without forward DeNesha Stallworth, Kentucky's second-leading scorer and rebounder who will miss the next two to four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday, Wildcats' coach Matthew Mitchell played all 10 on his active roster a minimum of 12 minutes and nine players 15 minutes or more, getting points from everyone. His bench alone contributed 45 points and 23 rebounds.

By comparison, just seven Blue Demons played more than 12 minutes, and Bruno got six points and three rebounds from his bench.

In total, Kentucky would out-rebound DePaul 22-12 in the first half and 44-23 on the night.

"When you're running around against a team like Kentucky, you do get tired," said DePaul guard Megan Rogowski, who finished with 19 points in 35 minutes. "They kept bringing in fresh legs."

"Fresh," however, was not a word the Wildcats would have used after their last game six days ago, defeating Baylor in a quadruple-overtime game in which the two teams combined for 263 points and a new Division I record.

"I was concerned for our players," Mitchell said. "We had to find some way, somehow to put that behind us. But on Tuesday and Wednesday, people in town were still saying 'Good game, historic game.' . . . I don't think it was easy to move on."

It seemed particularly difficult for guard Jennifer O'Neill, who scored a school-record 43 points against Baylor off the bench, including the go-ahead bucket in the fourth OT. Thursday night, O'Neill was 1-for-5 from the floor in the first half and finished 1-of-6 with 10-of-10 foul shooting for 12 points.

"The only bucket she had in the first half was a layup," Mitchell said. "And everything else was dancing and crossover and playground stuff. It was not crisp. What Jen has realized is that the 43 points, that was a game and a half, that wasn't like one game she scored 43. I thought she settled down and did a much better job in the second half. . . . But she was pressing in the first."

If the Wildcats were also looking ahead to Duke on Dec. 22 at Rupp Arena, they would not say. What they did say was that this one was dangerous and it was not empty pandering as DePaul had beaten seven of its last nine ranked opponents at home.

And we already know how Bruno feels.

"This is the kind of game a DePaul basketball team wins on its home court . . . ," he said. "We know how to win here. We have a formula to win against ranked basketball teams. We expect to win here against ranked teams and we expect to be ranked ourselves."

Instead, he called the loss "lacking in effort defensively and unintelligent . . . This is the second-ranked team in the nation academically . . . and we're proud of that but hello, let's translate that to the court. Let's take it from physics and finance . . . . and hit the open woman."