March 17, 2017 6:05:10 PM
STARKVILLE -- DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno brags about giving his players, "the greenest green light in America."
Bruno doesn't want his players to hesitate shooting, but sometimes coaches have to be a little more emphatic in driving their point home.
That is what Bruno has had to do with sophomore guard Tanita Allen. In fact, Bruno has encouraged Allen to shoot the ball more without seeing a breakthrough.
But things changed Friday against Northern Iowa in first round of the NCAA tournament. It wasn't because Allen finally yielded to Bruno's wishes. A talk with her father evidently proved to be what was needed to do the trick.
"He told me, 'Just shoot. Don't think about it,' " Allen said.
Allen used that mind-set to fuel a game-high 25-point effort that sparked seventh-seeded DePaul to an 88-67 victory against 10th-seeded Northern Iowa at Humphrey Coliseum.
The win propelled DePaul (27-7) into a second-round matchup against second-seeded Mississippi State (30-4), which beat 15th-seeded Troy 110-69. The teams will meet at a time to be determined Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional.
Allen was 9 of 11 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range. She also had four rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes.
"The ball got into the paint, it got shooters open, and I just seemed to have a lot of open shots," Allen said.
Problem is, Bruno has had difficulty convincing Allen to shoot the ball when she has been in that situation. He joked with Allen after the game because he knew her answer sounded familiar.
"You needed your father to tell you that?" Bruno said, cracking a smile as everyone in the room laughed. "I've been telling you that."
In the second quarter, Allen made a 3-pointer through a foul, converted the free throw, and hit another 3-pointer 21 seconds later to help DePaul extend its lead to 21 points. She scored eight more points in the quarter, including two 3-pointers, to put DePaul up by 18 at halftime.
Allen's inflated role in the offense wasn't by design. But Northern Iowa (24-9) focused its defense on DePaul's two leading scorers, Big East Player of the Year Brooke Schulte and Jessica January, by swarming them anytime they touched the ball in the post.
Schulte (12 points) and January (nine points) entered the game averaging 13 shots per game but only had 11 and nine, respectively. Allen helped pick up the slack by taking four more shots than her average. The Blue Demons continued to feed Allen when they recognized she had a hot hand. The performance marked the 10th time this season Allen has attempted double-digit shots in a game.
"I tell my players all the time, 'It's my job to get you shots, it's your job to make shots,' " Bruno said.
Allen wasn't alone. DePaul was 11 of 24 from 3-point range (45.8 percent), which was its second-best effort from behind the arc since December. Its best performance (50 percent) came in its last game, a loss to Marquette in the championship game of the Big East Conference tournament.
The Blue Demons might have final exams to thank for keeping that hot hand over 10 days. Bruno said DePaul works on shooting every day, but he said DePaul is in the middle of final exams -- the school is on the quarter system -- so some players had to take exams Thursday night.
Given the academic rigors involved, Bruno gave his players days off in between practice days over the 10-day layoff.
"Maybe exams help you when the NCAA break is so long," Bruno said.
The barrage left UNI feeling powerless.
"The game wasn't lost on defense. It was won on offense. Anytime a team shoots the basketball the way they did, you have to give them credit," UNI coach Tonya Warren said. "I knew they were good offensively. I had no idea they were that well-oiled of a machine."
UNI guard Madison Weekly, a three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection, had a team-high 21 points in her final game. Megan Maahs added 16 points and five rebounds, and Ellie Herzberg had 12 points and five rebounds.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson