Tigers and Bears to meet for the 25th time Friday night


It took more than a decade for Kris Huffman to win her first game against the Bears.
To be precise, it took Huffman - head women's basketball coach - 11 tries to finally beat Washington University in St. Louis.
Friday evening at the Neal Fieldhouse the Tigers will face the Bears for the 25th time since 1986. Washington holds the advantage all-time, 18-6, but in the past seven matchups, DePauw has won five.
The NCAA Division III tournament round of 16 will feature two coaches that have won four national coach of the year honors between them, and a combined six national titles since 1998.
Of course, the Bears hold five of those, and DePauw holds the school's only national championship. That was achieved in 2007 - a win over Washington in the championship game.
Bears head coach Nancy Fahey is in her 27th year at Washington, and last year she was inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Huffman, in her 20th season, is similarly already in the Iowa Basketball Hall of Fame, and will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in April.
"They are the dynasty in Division III," Huffman said of the Bears. "Coach Fahey is one of the most well-respected coaches. We are better from having played them for all those years."
During the 11 game losing streak for Huffman's DePauw teams from 1993-2005, Washington outscored the Tigers by an average of 13 points.
"We used to not be able to stay in the same gym as them," Huffman said. "You figure out what you need to do to get closer. You keep closing the gap a little bit, and we were able to sneak a couple by in 2006 and 2007."
Through the first 10 years of Huffman's head coaching career, she said she learned from Fahey and how she prepared her teams. While the DePauw program wasn't in any state to beat Washington, according to Huffman, the annual matchup represented a benchmark for what she wanted to achieve.
"I've gained knowledge especially coaching against the greats, and trying to beat the greats," Huffman said. "I probably have gained the most ground from an offensive standpoint. I used to be focused on defense and rebounding, and I think we've added that offensive component."
In the 1999-2000 season, DePauw, Washington and Illinois Wesleyan University held a tipoff tournament, and has held a tournament ever since.
"That's a credit to these institutions to play early, and willingly, tough competition," Fahey said. "What's unique about rivalries is you don't have to respect the opponent. What's refreshing is that we respect the DePauw program so much."
In 2006, DePauw ended its 13 game losing streak dating back to before Huffman to the helm of the program in 1993.
Fahey said that since then, the rivalry has favored DePauw (30-0). Going into Friday's game, DePauw, ranked No. 1 in the country, could be considered the favorite against Washington (22-5).
"[Huffman] is a premier college coach and the record speaks for itself," Fahey said. "The reason they are undefeated is there isn't one thing you can put your finger on. They run the ball well and execute. They're incredible on the boards. It is multifaceted."
This season, the Tigers downed the Bears by one point on Nov. 24 - the closest margin of victory for DePauw.
"Both teams have gone through a lot in their conferences and developed," Fahey said. "They have gone unscathed through that time, and obviously we had some ups and downs in the season. Both teams are familiar with each other."
For players, the preparation for the matchups with Washington isn't much different than any other game. However, there is more of a tension leading up to tipoff, said DePauw guard Ali Ross.
"This will be a tough game no matter what," she said. "Each team will shoot well and neither will just go away."
Added Huffman, "Preparation is the same, but you have to be even more detail oriented because they are so gifted and they know how to win. [Fahey] knows how to prepare her team and take away your strengths. So you've got to try and do the guessing game of what you're going to do and how you're going to counter them."
In the past two contests in the NCAA tournament, DePauw came out ahead both times: a win over Washington in the national title game in 2007, 55-52, and a seven point win in 2008's NCAA second round.
Fahey said she expects Friday's game to be another close game that will most likely come down to which team can keep each other off the offensive glass.
"We know DePauw will be ready," she said, "and we're fired up."