A look at the DePauw women's basketball team about half an hour before Friday night's NCAA Division III first round game with Denison told the story for the sixth-ranked Tigers.
As time wound down in game one between Washington and Wilmington, a pair of DePauw's players were dancing as the pep band played the "Green Acres" theme. The Tigers were loose. They'd been here before.
With the lead in hand, DePauw held the Big Red at arm's length all night, never letting the lead slip below 10 for the remainder.
DePauw (26-3) won 70-53 to advance to the second round, in which they will host Washington University at 7 p.m. tonight.
"That wasn't a wide margin of victory. Maybe in the final score, but that was a 10-point game, so we really never broke away, and they came back and always hit a big shot," DePauw coach Kris Huffman said. "It would have been nice to hit some of those bunnies that I felt like rolled out on us."
"I think we were nervous the first six minutes of the game and didn't play the game that we were capable of playing and when you have a nice team like DePauw, it's hard to come back from that," Denison coach Sara Lee said.
The missed shots really kept the Tigers from blowing the game open. After the first six minutes, DePauw maintained control of the game but did not put the Big Red (18-11) away.
DePauw shot just 38 percent for the game. Denison managed only 39 percent. The Tigers' opening flurry notwithstanding, Huffman thought both teams were a little tight.
"It's a tough night. It's the first national tournament game for both of us this year. It just felt a little bit different for us. I think both teams were a little bit keyed up out there," Huffman said.
Even when the shots weren't falling, though, DePauw still had its two cornerstones to fall back on in rebounding and defense.
DePauw outrebounded Denison 46-36, including 15 offensive boards.
"Our rebounding, I thought, was pretty good. That's what I believe wins ballgames. Our post players did an awesome job on the boards," guard Gretchen Haehl said.
"We want those extra possessions or at least extra shot attempts by taking care of the ball," Huffman said. "Denison's fairly young in the guard court and I think our defensive pressure did play a small role in them taking care of the basketball."
It was the defensive pressure that kept the Tigers in the lead even when their shooting went cold late in the first half. Although they scored just 12 points over the final 14 minutes, they still led 30-19 at the break.
In the second half, both teams began to find some offense.
In particular, Denison's Carolyn Simpson came alive, scoring all 18 of her points in the second half.
But even with Simpson scoring, the Big Red managed just 10 points in the paint all night, a key Huffman's squad had focused on.
"Carolyn Simpson is quite a player for them--an all-American post player in my mind. So we talked about trying to limit her touches with the ball pressure on the perimeter," Huffman said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of making those entry passes a little bit difficult."
The offenses were fairly evenly matched in the second. Denison would cut the lead to around 10 before DePauw would stretch it back to 15.
However, when Simpson cut the lead to 10 with a three-pointer with 4:05 remaining, the Big Red would never get closer.
Buckets from Katie Mathews, Kalei Lowes, Haehl and four late free throws from Pruzin would take the game to its final margin of 17.
Pruzin led DePauw with 19 points and five steals. She also shared the assist lead with Lowes at four. Emily Marshall had 11 rebounds.
For the Big Red, Simpson led the way with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Ellen O'Brien had five assists.
DePauw now turns its attention to Washington for a rematch of last year's Division III National Championship Game.
"They're always just such a tough opponent for us," Huffman said of Washington. "They have good size, good depth, good quickness. They transition; they shoot the ball well. They've got an inside-outside game. They'll stretch us in every phase."
One aspect that should help the Tigers is their depth. As they have done much of the year, the Tigers spread the minutes and points Friday night. Eleven players saw the court Friday, and eight of these played at least 14 minutes.
Likewise, Pruzin, Haehl, Mathews and Jenna Fernandez all scored more than 10 points.
"Our depth has been crucial for us all year long and we're coming off the conference tournament where we had to play three days straight. We've been in this situation a couple times this year," Huffman said.
The Tigers and Bears face off at 7 p.m. tonight at Neal Fieldhouse.
At Neal Fieldhouse
NCAA Division III Women's Tournament
DEPAUW UNIVERSITY 70, DENISON UNIVERSITY 53
DENISON UNIVERSITY (18-11) -- Carolyn Simpson 7-12 1-1 18; Haley Dahlgard 6-12 0-0 12; Katie St. Clair 3-10 0-0 7; Ellen O'Brien 3-7 0-0 7; Shaina Kaiser 2-3 2-2 6; Lindsay Henry 1-2 0-0 3; Anna Mayo 0-4 0-0 0; Jackie Pachuta 0-3 0-0 0; Sarah Perrine 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 3-3 53.
DEPAUW UNIVERSITY (26-3) -- Cassie Pruzin 5-20 6-8 19; Gretchen Haehl 5-9 0-0 13; Katie Mathews 5-8 1-2 11; Jenna Fernandez 5-12 0-2 10; Gwen Haehl 3-7 0-0 7; Andrea Travelstead 1-3 2-4 4; Kalei Lowes 2-6 0-0 4; Emily Marshall 1-6 0-0 2; Adedrea Chaney 0-0 0-0 0; Sarah Merkel 0-0 0-0 0; Brianna Frigerio 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-72 9-16 70.
|Denison University||19 34 -- 53|
|DePauw University||30 40 -- 70|
3-point goals--Denison 6-24 (Simpson 3-4; O'Brien 1-2; Henry 1-2; St. Clair 1-7; Mayo 0-2; Pachuta 0-2; Perrine 0-1; Dahlgard 0-4), DePauw 7-14 (Gr. Haehl 3-3; Pruzin 3-8; Gw. Haehl 1-2; Lowes 0-1). Fouled out--Denison-None, DePauw-None. Rebounds--Denison University 36 (Carolyn Simpson 12), DePauw University 46 (Emily Marshall 11). Assists--Denison 12 (Ellen O'Brien 5), DePauw 14 (Kalei Lowes 4; Cassie Pruzin 4). Total fouls--Denison 13, DePauw 11. Technical fouls--Denison-None, DePauw-None. A-800.