DePaul Defense Weathers the Red Storm for Shot at the Big East Championship

The DePaul Blue Demons met the fifth seed, St. John’s Red Storm in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament looking to avoid a repeat of last year when top seeded DePaul was upset 75-66 by the Red Storm on their homefloor in the same round.

St. John’s came into the game red-hot and confident following a convincing 56-40 win over Villanova, a game in-which senior guard, Aaliyah Lewis exploded for a career high 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting. The Red Storm held the Wildcats  31 percent from the field the night before in an effort where they held their opponent to 50 points or under for the 10th time this season. With a league best, 37 percent opponent field goal percentage, defense was the calling card of the Red Storm all season and the reason they were able to upset DePaul the year before.

Although St. John’s defense was true to form against DePaul, the Blue Demons’ defense was even better. DePaul held the Red Storm to just 26 percent from the field  in their 59-41 loss to DePaul.

“Because we are a team that scores the ball, that likes to score the ball, I don’t think people think of us as a defensive basketball team,” said coach Bruno after the game, “but we’ve always worked very hard to be a good defensive basketball team.”

Coach Bruno credited his assistant coaches and scouts for contributing to what was a tactful well executed defensive gameplan.

“We have great assistant coaches, all of my assistants are great scouts,” said Bruno, so we spent a lot of time examining film and understanding what our opponents’ strengths are weaknesses are..”

Early in the game, St. Johns’ forward, Jade Walker picked up two fouls that kept her to just three minutes in the first half. With their leading scorer on the bench, DePaul went to a zone defense that sent the Red Storm scrambling to find offensive production.

“It was very beneficial to have Jade Walker in foul trouble in the first half,” said Bruno, “that was huge for us.”

With Walker on the bench, the plan was to stop Aaliyah Lewis and force the Red Storm’s worst shooters to shoot the basketball. Crystal Simmons came into the Big East tournament shooting a just 22 percent from the field and 21 percent from the three point line.

“It was a team effort defensively,” said Bruno, “we were able to one man monster, one man  zone off of Simmons so there was always a second player in the paint when Lewis did penetrate, its not like we just shut her down by herself.”

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Jessica January, Amarah Coleman, and Lauren Prochaska (left to right) swarm Aaliyah Lewis in the paint. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

The plan worked to perfection.  Lewis followed up her career night with a frustrating nine points on just two for thirteen shooting while Simmons had the second most field goal attempts behind only Lewis. Simmons finished the game with just four points on two of 11 shooting.

Junior point guard, Lauren Prochaska played a key role shutting down Lewis as the primary defender on the cat-quick senior out of Brooklyn.

“It was definitley a team effort,” said Prochaska, “its not I stop you, its we stop they and I think we did a pretty good job, Aaliyah was coming off you know, an amazing scoring night last night so I think everyone did a really good job when it was their turn to step up and defend.”

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Lauren Prochaska on the way to one of her two blocks on Aaliya Lewis. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

Prochaska, finished the game with two blocks, both coming in the paint against Lewis and one steal. Amara Coleman also guarded Lewis on the ball, finishing the game with two steals.

Jade Walker returned in the second half but the power forward was held to just six points in her seventeen minutes by DePaul who brought a double team every time she caught the ball in the post. As result, Walker had two of her team’s 18 turnovers and was held to just six points, less than half of her 13 points-per-game average.

“In the second half, I thought we did a good job on getting to Jade Walker with the secondary defender as well,” said Bruno, “when Joe’s game plan coming out of halftime was to go right at us with Walker, I thought we did a good job of getting a secondary defender also.”

While the Blue Demons defense was incredible, St. Johns’ defensive game-plan was true to form, holding DePaul well below their 44 percent field goal average at just 36 percent from the field.

“They’re very tough,” said Bruno of the Red Storm, “they’re really tough defensively, they make you work, very, very hard to score so a big part of our offensive lack of flow must be credited to the St. John’s defense. ”

One player they did not have an answer for though, was Jessica January. After missing all but the first half of DePaul’s conference opener against Georgetown and the team’s final two conference games versus the Villanova Wildcats and the Georgetown Hoyas, January was playing in just her fourth game back from her shooting broken hand.

January, the preseason Big East Player of the Year exploded for her fifth outing of the basketball year with 20 or more points, pouring in 20 points on seven of 11 shooting, including three of her four 3-pointers falling in just 23 minutes of play.

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Jessica January pulls up for a jumper over Aaliyah Lewis. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

“Its great to have Jessica January back,” said Bruno, “she just really brings us energy and competitiveness.”

“I’m obviously really excited to be back,” said January, “and like Bruno said, we kinda had a choppy game offensively and I think everyone jus did agood job being aggressive still and trying to take advantage of the easy opportunities we did have.”

The Blue Demons next opportunity will come against the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Big East Championship game. While the Blue Demons have a perfect four to zero record versus their arch-rival in tournament play, the Golden Eagles were the only team to defeat DePaul in conference this season. Tomorrow night’s game will tip off at 8 PM at the Al McGuire Center.

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