A couple of times DePaul players were so open underneath the basket, they kinda hesitated, glancing around to make sure no one was close. Often after missing shots, DePaul outfought Texas A&M for the rebound. Sometimes the process was immediately repeated, once with the Blue Demons getting four straight offensive rebounds.
It was that kind of game as the 18th-ranked DePaul women’s basketball team carved up 15th-ranked A&M in an 80-66 nonconference victory Saturday at Reed Arena. DePaul (7-3) went on an 11-3 run early in the second half to break a 34-all tie, never looking back.
DePaul hit 11 3-pointers, tying its season-high, with seven different players contributing. That allowed DePaul’s offense to work the lane for a 34-30 edge in points in the paint, though it also helped that the Blue Demons had a 52-36 rebounding edge, including 27 offensive rebounds for a 21-14 advantage in second-chance points.
“That was an embarrassment out there today,” said A&M head coach Gary Blair, adding that he turned to his bench for energy with his starters struggling, but nothing changed as A&M’s biggest run in the second half was 4-0 as the Aggies (7-3) couldn’t stifle the Demons, who showed why they came in fifth in the nation in scoring at 85.7 ppg.
“We did not slow them down enough in second half,” A&M senior point guard Jordan Jones said. “I felt like the third quarter run that they made, usually we can sustain it and come back but we didn’t do a good job of executing our half-court defense and they really executed against us.”
The victory was a huge shot in the arm for DePaul which was coming off a 95-90 loss to third-ranked Notre Dame and also had lost to top-ranked Connecticut and fourth-ranked Baylor.
“I knew we were a good team,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. “I’ve known we could be one of the best teams in the country, but until players prove that to themselves, they don’t know that. I’m just happy that they proved it to themselves.”
DePaul had four score in double figures led by senior forward Megan Padkowa and junior guard Jessica January who each had double-doubles. The 6-foot-2 Padkowa had a season-high 20 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. She was relentless, getting 10 offensive rebounds, which was twice as many as A&M’s five starters had combined. January had 11 points and a career-high 13 assists. Senior guard Chanise Jenkins had 15 points and junior forward Jacqui Grant added 13. DePaul had a season-high 29 assists on 32 baskets with six players having at least two.
“People think that all we do is run and shoot it,” Bruno said. “We value the 3-point shot for spacing, there’s no spacing without respect for the 3. We thought we were way too conservative in the first half, so we went to a little different offense in the second half, spreading the floor more.”
Jenkins hit a 3-pointer to break the 34-34 tie but the last four buckets in the run were layups as the Blue Demons put on a clinic of finding the open player. DePaul shot 13 layups in the second half, hitting 10.
“I thought our players did a good job of cutting, reading screens, delivering the ball on target and on time,” Bruno said. “Any kind of win like this, it comes back to the players.”
A&M struggled as much scoring as it did defending.
Senior shooting guard Walker had 12 points at halftime, hitting 5 of 7 shots, but she had only one bucket in the second half.
“I thought we really made her work the rest of the way,” Bruno said. “We went to a straight take out place where we just face-guarded her and just tried to prevent her from touching the ball.”
A&M senior forward Courtney Williams, who came in averaging a team-high 16.2 ppg, picked up two fouls early and was never a factor. She ended with four points, not scoring until 3:38 left in the third quarter. Jones had nine points, five assists and five steals, but also five turnovers,
“I think we went to school against Notre Dame,” Bruno said. “As much as we want to chase people, we have to chase people with intelligence. And I thought we were much wiser tonight in cutting angles, and we were up the floor, but also conservative up the floor, not giving them open court space.”
A&M senior guard Chelsea Jennings scored 13 points in her third start of the season, but seven came in the fourth quarter when DePaul’s lead never dipped into single digits. A&M 6-5 sophomore post Khaalia Hillsman, who is from Chicago and was recruited by the Blue Demons, had nine points and four rebounds, unable to take advantage of her size inside.
A&M trailed only 34-33 at halftime thanks to Walker and 11 points from the bench. The Aggies battled back from an eight-point deficit to take a 28-24 lead by controlling the tempo.
“I felt great going into half time even though they scored three out of their last four possessions before half on wide-open shots but I felt like we would turn the corner,” Blair said. “We came out to start the second half and missed an easy shot and they were off in transition and we didn’t get it done.”
DePaul complemented its inside game in the second half by shooting 6 of 14 on 3-pointers. In its last two meetings with A&M — an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 loss in the 2013-14 season and a loss in the 2014-15 season opener, the Blue Demons were only 9 of 46 shooting 3-pointers.
“Right now, we’re standing around on offense and defense and we’re not having any motion,” Blair said. “And then when you stand around, it’s hard to get defensive boards and offensive boards because everyone is just waiting for someone to hit a [jumper].”