The current DePauw women’s basketball team would have been between two and six years-old the last time the team failed to make the NCAA tournament. The team has now advanced to 14 straight NCAA tournaments after defeating Denison University 56-50 in the NCAC Championship.
The weekend’s games tipped off with No. 12 DePauw playing Oberlin College in the semi-final round. DePauw withstood a late surge from the Yeowomen and won 58-54. DePauw led 17-15 midway through the first half before going on a 10-1 run, increasing their lead to eleven. At halftime, the Tigers were up by ten, 33-23. DePauw saw their lead increase to as many as 13 points in the third quarter, only to have it cut to 45-38 by the beginning of the fourth.
As the game clock ticked down, things got a little too close for comfort for the Tigers. Oberlin cut the lead down to six before sophomore Maya Howard’s mid-range jumper pushed it back to eight with two minutes to go. With 16 seconds left in regulation, Oberlin narrowed the gap to four. Junior Emily Budde responded by hitting one of two free throws to give the Tigers a five-point cushion. Budde came in clutch again just 12 seconds later. After Oberlin hit a three to bring them within two points of DePauw, Budde sank both of her free throws to seal the victory. Budde’s 18 points off the bench lead the way for the tigers, with Freshman Sydney Kopp adding ten as well.
After the game Budde was happy with the team’s performance. “I thought it went really well. It’s always hard playing a team for the third time, you know each other so well at that point. We played really hard and did not want to lose, it was good that we persevered throughout the game and didn’t give up,” Budde said.
After a win for Denison University in their semi-final, the Tigers and the Big Red matched up in the NCAC final. The script of the game resembled the semi-final. The Tigers, after starting the game down 5-0, went on a 21-0 run and ended the first quarter with a 21-5 lead. The women kept up the momentum in the second quarter, finishing the half with a 31-22 lead. Denison cut the lead down to four points midway through the third, but DePauw stretched it out to nine by the quarter’s end.
In the fourth, things started to get dicey for the Tigers. By the 3:46 mark of the fourth quarter Denison had tied the game at 43, scoring eight straight unanswered points. DePauw went on to score the next six points and reclaim some of the momentum. In the final seconds, first-year Maya Howard hit four straight free throws after back to back Denison turnovers to give DePauw the lead 54-45. Denison was determined to go down swinging however, ending the game with a layup and a three pointer to cut the final deficit to five.
Budde led the way again with 18 points. Budde’s performance over the two games earned her the Nan Nichols Award, recognizing her as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Maya Howard poured in twelve for the Tigers, including six clutch free throws.
After the game, Howard praised the Tigers for their effort over the course of the weekend. “They were two tough teams to play, and it was the third time playing them,” Howard said. “These teams needed to win to get into the NCAA tournament so they gave us their all. We did a good job sticking to the plan and executing on both ends of the court.”
Fifteen years ago was the last time the DePauw Women’s Basketball team failed to make the NCAA tournament. They have the most wins in all of division three women’s basketball since 1996. There are several reasons for this continued success, but sophomore Annie Gilliard thinks that talent keeps coming to DePauw because of the success of the program. “You come here because you know will have a chance to compete on a national level every year,” Gilliard said.
One of the biggest takeaways from this weekend’s victories, in Howard’s opinion, was the toughness her team showed. “We’re a really tough team,” Howard said. “There were a lot of challenges, but we’re tough and we stick together no matter what team is coming our way. We like challenges.”
Despite the toughness the team showed with winning the close games, Howard knows the team needs to play more complete games when they play tougher competition in the NCAA tournament. “We just need to keep up the momentum and not slack off on offense. We need to not give up on plays, not give up on possessions and stay focused for the whole game. We learned that at any point in time, a team can sneak up on us and even take the lead like this weekend,” Howard said.
As the team continues their quest for their third national title in the last decade (2007, 2013), Budde says this team has notable similarities and differences from the team her first two years. “My freshman year, half of the team had played on that title winning team,” Budde said. “This year we are kind of like that team, but we found our own personality as a group and that works better for us. We have great senior leadership and it is a big part of why we’re successful.”
DePauw travels to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where they will play Gustavus Adolphus College at 4:30 p.m. this Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.