One day, DePaul will topple mighty UConn. How does this weekend sound?
All the women in the Blue Demons basketball sorority — those on the court now and those who preceded them — want a “W” over the Huskies in the worst way. When it finally comes, it will have been richly earned by all of them.
Sky All-Star guard Allie Quigley was dog-tired Thursday night as she rode home from O’Hare, and who could blame her? Playing in the top Russian pro league during the WNBA offseason, she was back in Chicago for a nearly two-week break fresh off a game in Novosibirsk.
But let’s be more specific. The trip took her from the gym to the local airport, where she caught a flight to Moscow. From there, another one to Istanbul, Turkey. And then another one here. Total time: 25 hours.
So, yeah, gassed. But also excited, and not just because Candace Parker is coming to town to vault the Sky into the realm of championship favorites. Why else?
UConn at DePaul on Sunday, that’s why.
“I’d be really happy if they could pull this off,” she said of the 17th-ranked Blue Demons, her old squad.
It’s one hell of an “if.”
There’s no nice way to say it: UConn owns DePaul. Then again, the Huskies own everyone else, too. While going 17-0 against the Blue Demons since the teams started meeting annually in 2006, they’ve also won six national championships and been to 12 Final Fours. They are the No. 1 superpower in college basketball — as DePaul’s 35th-year coach, Doug Bruno, calls them, “the best, most accomplished program in the history of the college game, men or women.”
Lots of luck knocking that monstrous train off the tracks, right?
“We’ve played them close in our history, and we’ve gotten absolutely destroyed,” Bruno said. “But I go into every game against UConn believing we can beat them.”
The Blue Demons — 9-3 overall and 6-1 in the Big East, the lone blemish a 75-52 loss at UConn last month — are no slouches. Far from it. They’re moving toward their 18th straight NCAA Tournament, a glowing achievement. They’ve won or shared six of the last seven regular-season conference titles. Which reminds us: Guess who joined the Big East this season? Yep, the Huskies.
UConn was supposed to roll into Wintrust Arena a perfect 11-0, but something shocking happened Thursday: a 90-87 loss at No. 19 Arkansas. One certainly imagines program mastermind Geno Auriemma whipping his band of bluest-of-the-blue-chip players into a frenzy for their next game. Goodness, this seems like terrible timing for the Blue Demons, doesn’t it?
“I guess you could look at it that way,” Quigley said. “Or you could say, ‘Someone did it. Maybe we can, too.’ ”
Maybe, just maybe, they can. DePaul’s top two scorers, juniors Sonya Morris and Lexi Held, believe it in their bones.
“It’s real important to go out there fearless, not worrying about the name on the jersey,” Morris said. “I feel it’s not about who has the most skill, who has the most talent. It’s who wants it more, who’s willing to compete more.”
“I think to be successful against them ever,” she said, “you have to have that mindset that you can compete with them and, in some sense, that you’re better than them.”
DePaul was better than UConn once. Almost. It was 2008, and the host Blue Demons held a 17-point second-half lead. But the No. 1 Huskies wouldn’t relent.
“You could sense the tide was turning,” Quigley said. “You were still up, but it didn’t feel like it.”
It was the final home game of Quigley’s brilliant career. She scored 27. If only she’d scored 29. Huskies guard Ketia Swanier drove the length of the court for a layup with 1.6 seconds left and a 77-76 victory. Holy heartbreak.
“One of those moments you’re never, ever going to forget,” Quigley said. “You wish you could go back and just kind of regroup and be more confident. It’s a tough thing to remember.”
Bruno, 70, a former player at the school, hasn’t gotten over it, either.
“Those are the games you live with for life,” he said.
The women in this DePaul basketball sorority want a “W” against UConn for one another, the ones who are on the court now and all those who came before them. They figure it has to come eventually — maybe Sunday — and, when it does, will have been richly earned by all of them. They want it for their coach, too.
“You can hear the fire in his voice for this game,” Morris said.
“I think he deserves it more than any coach in the country,” Quigley said.
And if it happens this time, on Sunday at noon in front of a national audience on Fox-32?
“It’s going to be like every other big win,” Bruno said. “It’s going to feel great in the moment, but I’m going to have perspective. If and when we beat UConn, we’re still going to be 1-and.”
He ended it at “and.” As in, 1-17.
You know what? That doesn’t sound so bad at all.