STARKVILLE — Vic Schaefer was waiting for the question.
A student of the game like Schaefer, who prides himself on his research and his game preparation, knew someone likely was going to ask him about DePaul’s knack for winning NCAA tournament games on the home court of its opponents. DePaul, which has advanced to the second round 11 times, has done so the last three times by defeating Penn State (2011), Duke (2014), and Louisville (2016) on those teams’ home floor.
That’s the situation the seventh-seeded DePaul (27-7) women’s basketball team will be in at 1:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) when it takes on second-seeded Mississippi State (30-4) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
The winner of today’s game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional. The regional semifinals will be at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Schaefer hopes his team can avoid a similar fate and advance to the Sweet 16 for the second-straight year, and the third time in program history. To accomplish that feat, the Bulldogs will have to find a way to stop a team that averages 82.9 points per game and ranks with the nation’s top teams in assists and 3-pointers.
“I think they’re comfortable in this environment, which is not good for us,” Schaefer said. “I think they’re comfortable being the underdog. I think they’re comfortable being the (No.) 7 (seed) against the (No.) 2 (seed.) Realistically, if we kept the numbers by the name and we played in Chicago, I don’t think they would be the underdog. I think they’re a really good basketball team.”
DePaul defeated 10th-seeded Northern Iowa 88-67 on Friday in the first round. Tanita Allen scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Blue Demons, the regular-season champion of the Big East Conference. Big East Conference Player of the Year Brooke Schulte and Lauren Prochaska had 12 points, while Amarah Coleman added 10 points for the Blue Demons, who had 21 assists. It marked the 16th time this season DePaul has had 20 or more assists in a game. DePaul entered the NCAA tournament fifth in assists and assists per game.
Jessica January (120), Kelly Campbell (102), Lauren Prochaska (101), Schulte (94), and Amarah Coleman (83) lead the Blue Demons in assists.
DePaul also entered the NCAA tournament fourth in the nation in 3-point attempts (934), sixth in 3-pointers made (306), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio, ninth in rebounding, and 10th in scoring (80.8 points per game).
Eleven of the 12 players on DePaul’s roster have hit 13 or more 3-pointers this season. DePaul was 11-for-24 from 3-point range against Northern Iowa. The performance pushed the Blue Demons’ total to 317 this season, which is the third-highest total in program history. They are five 3-pointers away from moving into second place. The 2014-15 team hit a program-best 364 3-pointers.
Marquette beat DePaul in the championship game of the Big East Conference tournament to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. DePaul earned an at-large big to secure its 15th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. DePaul, Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Oklahoma are the only programs that hold that distinction.
Fresh off drawing a crowd of 5,672 for a 1:30 p.m. start on a Friday afternoon, Schaefer has high hopes for the crowd that will come out for today’s game.
Last season, MSU had a crowd of 7,092 for its 74-72 victory against Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This season, Schaefer hopes MSU will be able to improve on that number.
“I am hoping we have 10,000,” Schaefer said. “I think our kids warrant it. … I know we are going to have a great crowd. I don’t know how many we’re going to have. I hope we have a sell out. I think our seniors deserve it. I think our team deserves it. It is supposed to be a nice day, so I hope we will have a lot of people travel up from the Jackson area and come down from Tupelo and the north part of the state.
“I think there are a lot of people in the state that have a lot of pride for our team and our program, and some of them aren’t Mississippi State people. I think what our kids have been able to do is allow a state to embrace them and be proud of them. … I know we’re going to have a great crowd. It is just a matter of how many.”
This and that
DePaul has won all four meetings between the teams. The last meeting was in 1994. This is the first meeting between the teams in Starkville. … MSU junior point guard Morgan William enters the game with 455 career assists, which is two shy of former All-American Tan White. Angela Harris (463) is MSU’s all-time leader in that category. … With 408 made free throws in her career, William is five away from tying White for second in program history. Her 84.1-percent free-throw shooting percentage is the best at MSU, and ninth in Southeastern Conference history.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.