DePaul junior Anna Martin was surprised to find herself nervous as she and her teammates gathered to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.
Martin had gone through the experience two other times in her career, feeling certain the Blue Demons would get in and they did. But much like this season, this selection show felt different.
Martin and the Blue Demons had to wait to see their school’s name -- they were among the last teams revealed -- but they did, and in a season where nothing went as expected, that’s all that mattered.
“My stomach was turning a little bit,” Martin said. “I remember looking around and shaking a little bit.”
DePaul endured an injury-filled season unlike any other in DePaul coach Doug Bruno’s previous 25 years. The Blue Demons lost five players to injury this season as what was expected to be a deep team dwindled to a rotation of seven players.
Senior Keisha Hampton, a likely WNBA draft pick, played 12 games and then was lost for the rest of the year due to a knee injury. Senior guard Taylor Pikes has missed the entire season due to a knee injury. Freshman Chanise Jenkins, who was expected to start at point guard, suffered an ankle injury and played in just two games. Freshman Alexa Gallagher didn’t play this season due to a knee injury. Finally, Maureen Mulchrone had a back injury and has played in nine contests.
“We’ve had injury-plagued seasons, but I don’t know if we’ve had injuries to so many key components,” Bruno said. “[To] the players who are remaining, you just say, ‘Look, these guys aren’t coming back. This is the hand we’re dealt. We have to have expectations going forward without them.’
“You can use it as an excuse, but there are no excuses. When the game is complete, there’s a score up there. There are no style points for the players you’re missing.”
DePaul went through its struggles in January while trying to find its way without a full roster. It lost to Providence 60-52 on Jan. 7, squeaked by Pittsburgh 66-63 at home on Jan. 14, lost to South Florida 66-63 in overtime on Jan. 17 and was demolished by Connecticut 88-44 on Jan. 21.
The stretch is now what Bruno calls his team’s low point, and the season could have easily escaped DePaul. But instead of splitting, the Blue Demons united.
Katherine Harry and Jasmine Penny asserted themselves more inside. Martin, who averages 19.1 points, stepped up further. Senior starter Deana Ortiz provided leadership. Freshman starting guard Brittany Hrynko emerged. Megan Rogowski and Kelsey Reynolds gave quality minutes off the bench.
“We realized our margin for error was very small,” Martin said.
The turnaround began when the Blue Demons battled ranked Rutgers to a one-point game on Jan. 24. From there, they won seven of their final 11 games and earned themselves a 10th consecutive NCAA tournament invitation.
No. 7 seed DePaul will play No. 10 seed BYU at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. on Saturday.
“I never take for granted we’re going to the NCAA tournament,” Bruno said. “It’s hard to earn your way into the NCAA tournament. It’s something we try to tell our players every year. Just because we did last year, it sets an example, but it doesn’t set a guarantee. You have to earn it every year.”
It was certainly earned this season.