Blue Demons proving to be contenders

CHICAGO – If Stanford defeated Connecticut and ended the Huskies’ 90-game win streak, and DePaul beat Stanford, it can only mean DePaul can also knock off Connecticut and compete for the women’s basketball national title, right?

Blue Demons junior guard Keisha Hampton isn’t guaranteeing anything, but she believes it’s not too simplistic to connect the dots in such a fashion.

“I think we can look at it that way,” Hampton said. “The task of beating UConn is still huge. I know we beat Stanford and Stanford beat UConn, but we still have to beat UConn. UConn sets the bar for the Big East.

“We proved and showed everyone what we can do when we beat [Stanford] the No. 2 team in the country. UConn is a great team, but we still have a chance to get a run at them and play hard.”

Connecticut and the rest of the nation’s elite teams won’t be overlooking DePaul when the times comes. With the victory over Stanford to go along with the second best start in the program’s history with a 16-2 record and a top-25 ranking, the Blue Demons have validated themselves as a true contender.

DePaul’s success isn’t unexpected. The Blue Demons were eying a big season after having all their starters and 10 of their 11 top players return from last year’s NCAA tournament team.

Few teams in the country posses DePaul’s depth. Six DePaul players average between seven points and 16 points a game. Hampton, a 6-foot-2 forward, leads the way at the 16 mark, but even she only plays 23 minutes a game. Eight of the Blue Demons average 15 minutes or more and another four play six-plus minutes.

“All of our players can have a big night,” Hampton said. “It can be anyone on a given night. If a team is trying to take away our outside shot, we can go inside.”

Inside, senior Felicia Chester (11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds), junior Taylor Pikes (7.6 points, 6.7 rebounds) and sophomore Katherine Harry (7.2 points, 6.2 rebounds) have done the damage. Outside, senior Sam Quigley (10.8 points, 4.7 assists), sophomore Anna Martin (11.2 points), sophomore Deanna Ortiz (4.8 points) and senior China Threatt (3.9 points) have all been factors.

Former all-Big East senior guard Deirdre Naughton has also slowly returned to form after sitting out last season with a torn ACL. She’s averaged 4.9 points in seven games this season.

The Blue Demons have put themselves in a good position in the Big East with wins in their first four conference games. DePaul, Connecticut and Rutgers are the only undefeated teams left. But it’s not an easy road ahead for the Blue Demons. They still travel to No. 2 Connecticut and No. 25 Syracuse and host No. 6 West Virginia, No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 18 Georgetown.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno believes his team can still get better, too.

“I thought we had a chance to be pretty good, and I expected us to be good, but I still don’t think we’ve scratched the surface,” Bruno said. “We’ve done a lot, but I still think there’s a lot getting better to do. That’s a good sign.”