GREENCASTLE--The first game of any new basketball season always brings with it many questions. When that opener comes against an elite opponent, there is very little time to waste looking for answers.
The 10th-ranked DePauw women's basketball team -- on the strength of its trademark defensive discipline and offensive balance -- figured things out quickly enough against No. 3 Illinois Wesleyan Friday night to earn a convincing 77-65 win at Neal Fieldhouse. It was a near-perfect start for coach Kris Huffman's Tigers, setting them up nicely for Sunday's showdown against another top-10 team in Washington-St. Louis.
"I think this is a good win for us," coach Kris Huffman said. "Illinois Wesleyan had some size and athleticism -- a good challenge for us -- and we handled it pretty well."
It looked early like DePauw would struggle with Wesleyan's defensive pressure, as the Titans applied full-court pressure after every basket they scored and constantly hounded the Tigers on the perimeter.
But after DePauw fell behind by five in the first few minutes of play, the Tigers went on two sustained scoring runs to open up a ten-point lead for most of the first half. A buzzer-beating jumper by senior Katie Mathews pushed DePauw's advantage to 12 at the break, 36-24. They would not relinquish their lead the rest of the way.
The Tigers were led early by the scoring of Mathews, junior Katie Aldrich and sophomore first-time starter Ellie Pearson, who also led the way rebounding. But after intermission, whenever Wesleyan cut into DePauw's margin, it was the hot shooting of senior Brooke Osborne, who reeled off five straight from beyond the arc, that kept the Titans from ever truly threatening.
"We thought that if we could break their press, we would get some open looks," Huffman said. "And Brooke is a girl that has a green light. She can really shoot the ball."
Huffman said Wesleyan's "run and jump" style of play forced DePauw to take good care of the basketball and avoid turnovers, a task they handled better in the first half -- turning it over just four times -- than the second (nine TOs). But the Tigers still beat Wesleyan at its own game, forcing 14 Titan turnovers and never getting overwhelmed by the defensive pressure.
Perhaps the real difference in the game, though, was the DePauw's offensive rebounding. 17 offensive boards helped contribute to a 23-6 edge in second-chance scoring over Wesleyan. The scrappy play of Aldrich, Alex Gasaway and especially Pearson keyed many big baskets.
"Ellie's a heck of an athlete, and I think she responded really well in her first start," Huffman said. "She's someone who can really change the game for us, especially on the defensive end and as a rebounder."
Osborne finished with 20 points, followed by Aldrich's 15 and Pearson's 12. Kate Walker added four assists, while Pearson and Kathryn Denbow had nine and six rebounds, respectively.
The Tigers resume play in the "Tipoff Tournament" Sunday at 2 p.m. versus Washington-St. Louis.