Depth carries Tennessee past DePaul

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- DePaul coach Doug Bruno said when you've absolutely given your all in trying to win, there's no need to cry if it doesn't happen. Because you did everything you could.

DePaul, down to seven players in a season torpedoed by injuries, certainly gave its all to make it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Junior Anna Martin cried anyway. She couldn't help it.

What made Martin get choked up is talking about how Bruno had never let the Blue Demons -- who lost All-American Keisha Hampton among others to the injury plague -- give up on themselves. He'd never stopped believing in them.

The dream ending that Bruno sought for Monday was a trip to the Sweet 16. But Tennessee has snuffed out many an opponent's dream in all these years of orange-tinged excellence. The Lady Vols did it again Monday night at AllState Arena, about 20-minute drive from DePaul's campus if you don't run into traffic.

There was plenty of traffic in the lane in a physical game that Tennessee won 63-48. Tennessee's Glory Johnson emerged from all of that with a career-high 21 rebounds, while fellow seniors Shekinna Stricklen and Vicki Baugh had 17 and 16 points, respectively, to lead the No. 2 seed Lady Vols to their 29th NCAA Sweet 16.

DePaul's Martin, a junior guard out of SEC country (Kentucky) who led the Big East in scoring this season, spurred the Blue Demons' upset attempt with 20 points and five rebounds. No. 7-seed DePaul kept hanging around in this game, the way underdog teams do when they scare the favorites.

Tennessee fans had reason to worry; with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left, the Lady Vols' lead was just seven points after a big 3-pointer made by DePaul's Deanna Ortiz. This is a Tennessee team that has seen games slip away in an eight-loss season.

But six seconds later, Martin fouled out, and the wind was finally out of the balloon that Bruno had kept floating against all odds this season. Tennessee closed out the game on a 10-2 run that produced a final score that made it seem this game was more comfortable for Tennessee than it actually was.

"Doug's team, playing us with seven people, is just incredible," Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "They battled, and it took us 10 people to get the job done."

That, though, is one of the Lady Vols' strengths: They do have quality depth, with many different individuals who can come through and be game-changers. Baugh was the most consistent offensive threat for Tennessee on Monday, making 8-of-11 shots from the field. She and Stricklen also had nine rebounds each.

Coming off the bench for another good game, even though her shot was a bit off, was sophomore Meighan Simmons with 13 points. Johnson, along with her stellar board work, had eight points.

Tennessee had to sweat out this game, but that really should have been expected. DePaul had faced the Lady Vols already this season -- an 84-61 Tennessee win in December -- and the Blue Demons had been through the wringer with injuries since then but stayed strong. So they felt they could hang with Tennessee if they could keep the game at their pace and match the Lady Vols' physicality. They did that.

"It was a surprise just how strong each one of their players were," Johnson said. "DePaul was a scrappy team, and don't let anyone underestimate them just because of their size."

Or lack thereof, as it were. The smallish Blue Demons tried to look on the bright side of being down to seven players -- nobody had reason to complain about playing time -- and did not focus on who wasn't on the court.

"We came into the game understanding that the great and storied Tennessee program was the 2012 version, and we really believed we could beat Tennessee tonight," Bruno said. "The players did everything they could and left it on the floor. That's all coaches, I think, have the right to ask."

However, Bruno might wonder if he could ask fate whether he will ever get the chance to experience victory over Tennessee. After Monday's loss, his Blue Demons are now 0-20 against the Orange Crush.

Still, Bruno doesn't look at that in defeatist terms. He sees evidence that his program has grown by facing the best. Which Tennessee has been now for decades.

Tennessee moves on, its Final Four hopes still alive. DePaul in a season defined by not giving up when there were plenty of reasons to do that, must close the book on 2011-12 and look to next year.

It was OK if the Blue Demons didn't cry about that. But it was also OK if they did.