Other than coach Doug Bruno, his staff and players, the happiest person in Wintrust Arena on Wednesday might have been new DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy.
It’s not known if the former Kentucky deputy AD had provided a little inside intel, or simply a little inspiration, but No. 24 DePaul came through with one of its biggest wins in recent years knocking off No. 9 Kentucky 86-82.
It is the first win over a top-10 team since the Blue Demons took down No. 8 Louisville 73-72 on the Cardinals’ home court in the NCAA tournament second round on March 20, 2016.
Wednesday’s success was made possible by Bruno’s five-guard attack with five players in double figures accounting for 77 points. Sonya Morris led the way with 23 points followed by Deja Church with 18 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Lexi Held finished with 12 points, five assists and four steals while Dee Bekelja filled out the stat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Freshman Darrione Rogers contributed 12 points.
For the third time in five games this season, DePaul took measure of itself against one of the finest women’s basketball teams in the nation and emerged with a growing confidence after handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season. The Blue Demons improved to 3-2.
Bruno & Co. came into the fourth quarter protecting a 57-53 lead. What a finish this was shaping up to be. Both teams revved up their offenses as three-pointers were raining down on Wintrust Arena. Held, Morris and Church connected from deep while Rhyne Howard (18 points, 12 rebounds, five steals) and Chasity Patterson (22 points, eight steals) connected for Kentucky. Dre’Una Edwards finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“We don’t win without you”
It was a complete team effort on Wednesday afternoon as the Blue Demons took down No. 9️⃣ Kentucky.
— DePaul Women’s Hoops (@DePaulWBBHoops) December 16, 2020
Bekelja’s basket just before the media timeout put DePaul in front 74-69. Morris’ layup out of the break made it a seven-point advantage. But Kentucky (6-1) could get no closer than three in crunch time as Rogers, Morris and Church combined to convert six consecutive free throws.
Judging from the first 20 minutes of action, this one was headed for a tight finish as DePaul came out in the third quarter determined to erase a 37-35 halftime deficit.
Foul trouble had slowed up Bruno’s attack in the latter part of the second quarter with the heart of his offense (Morris, Held and Church) sitting out with two fouls apiece.
Morris ignited a 9-4 run at the outset of the third quarter as a Rogers layup provided DePaul with a 44-41 lead, prompting a Kentucky timeout. That was followed by layups from Church and Kayla Caudle, extending the surge to 13-4.
Howard and Keke McKinney went back-to-back in slicing the DePaul lead to 48-45 at the third quarter media timeout. The Wildcats had crept within two when Church scored seven in a row, personally staking her team to a 55-48 lead. It was 57-53 heading into the fourth quarter.
Kentucky jumped out to an 11-4 lead from the opening tip and was up by eight until Bekelja scored back-to-back, the second off a Morris steal. At 14-10, Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy called timeout.
Morris buried a three, Held scored on her patented driving layup and Morris scored again to make it 17-17. The Wildcats led 21-17 when Bekelja’s bucket and a Held three-pointer gave DePaul a 22-21 lead after one quarter.
So far, this was a different DePaul team from the one that suited up in the last two games. Instead of relying so heavily on shots behind the arc, these Blue Demons were driving the lane and also connecting on two-point shots.
The lead see-sawed back and forth the first five minutes of the second quarter until a Caudle free throw, another Held score and Nadège Jean’s layup off a nice feed from Rogers gave the home team a 31-27 lead at the media timeout.
An 8-2 Wildcat strike put the visitor up 35-33, but Caudle knotted it up with a basket down low. Rhyne Howard’s steal and score left the Blue Demons trailing 37-35 at halftime. Bekelja had 10 points at the break followed by Morris with nine and Held with seven.
DePaul is back in the South Loop at 2 p.m. on Saturday for its BIG EAST season opener against Georgetown that will be shown on the BIG EAST Digital Network.