AMES, Iowa — Missouri State surprised some by upsetting Missouri Valley powerhouse Drake to claim the league’s automatic bid.
The 11th-seeded Lady Bears apparently aren’t done playing above expectations.
Alexa Willard and Danielle Gitzen each scored 20 points and Missouri State stunned sixth-seeded DePaul 89-78 on Saturday, snapping the Blue Demons’ five-game winning streak in opening-round NCAA Tournament games.
Freshman Elle Ruffridge had a career-high 15 points for the surprisingly stout Lady Bears (24-9), tournament winners for the first time since 2001. They’ll face No. 3 seed Iowa State, the host school, or New Mexico State on Monday after shooting 52.5 percent and hitting 11 3s in the upset over the Blue Demons.
“We’re really excited,” Missouri State coach Kellie Harper said. “We just had a lot of confidence, and they believed in each other.”
Missouri State also used its superior size in racing out to a 42-33 lead by halftime, and Gitzen’s 3 early in the third quarter pushed the Bears’ lead to 55-40.
The Blue Demons responded with a 15-7 run that kept the game from getting away from them. But Ruffridge — who set the state record for points at nearby Pocahontas Area High in Iowa — drilled a 3 just before third-quarter buzzer to put Missouri State back on top 69-56.
Even when things seemed to go wrong for the Bears they ended up right. Willard air-balled a 3 with 8:50 to go — but it turned out to be a perfect entry pass for Abby Hipp, whose ensuing layup made it 73-59.
“Everyone did what they needed to do for it to be a success,” Gitzen said.
Chante Stonewall and Ashton Millender each had 17 points for DePaul (26-8), which had won its previous 11 games. The Blue Demons trailed by as many as 21 points and shot just 10 of 35 on 3s.
“What you have to do to stay in (the NCAA Tournament) is simple. You have to defend. You have to rebound,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Missouri State: The Bears’ last two games — a 15-point blowout over Drake, which was ranked at the time of the loss, and this win over DePaul — proved that they’re peaking at the perfect time. Missouri State also beat DePaul for the first time in six tries dating back in 2005.
DePaul: The Blue Demons picked a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. They also blew a shot at playing in the Chicago Regional — which they’ll host at Wintrust Arena.
Ruffridge broke Iowa prep records with 2,951 points, 802 assists and 466 3-pointers. But her first two double-digit games in college have come in her last three games. Missouri State hasn’t focused a ton on scoring from beyond the arc, but if Ruffridge — who was 3 of 5 on 3s — can give them a chance to stretch the floor, the Lady Bears might have more upsets in them. She definitely looked comfortable playing in Iowa again. “It just feels unbelievable to be home in front of this crowd,” Ruffridge said.
Missouri State outrebounded DePaul 42-31 and 31-20 on the defensive glass. …Gitzen added eight rebounds and six assists — and she never turned the ball over. …The Blue Demons were 21 of 38 on 2s, but their struggles on 3s doomed them. …The Lady Bears won despite turning it over 19 times. …Missouri State’s win marked the 32nd time an 11 beat a 6 in March.
HE SAID IT
“We just were never able to catch (them),” Bruno said.