ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) - DePaul women’s coach Doug Bruno sees his program as a worthy successor to the former league powerhouses Connecticut and Notre Dame.
The No. 23 Blue Demons made their case Tuesday with their first Big East tournament championship - a 65-67 victory over St. John’s in the finale.
“The Big East past made the ultimate statement in women’s basketball through Connecticut and, lately, Notre Dame,” Bruno said. “We want to accept that torch that’s being passed to us and we want to step this program up to be those kinds of programs.”
It was the first women’s championship game for the realigned conference since Connecticut and Notre Dame departed last year for the American Athletic and Atlantic Coast conferences, respectively.
Four players scored in double figures, led by all-tournament pick Brittany Hrynko’s 15 points as DePaul (27-6) won its seventh straight and earned the league’s automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Megan Podkowa had 12 points and tourney MVP Jasmine Penny added 11 for the host Blue Demons.
“I’m really happy for my team,” Penny said. “This was one of the goals we set at the beginning of the year, and just to see us work so hard throughout the year to accomplish it was just amazing.”
DePaul, which won its first conference tournament since 1993 in the Great Midwest, will make its 12th consecutive NCAA tourney appearance.
All-tournament pick Aliyyah Handford scored 13 points and Briana Brown added 12 for the Red Storm (22-10), making their first Big East title game appearance since 1988.
“Our season is not over,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “If you look at the body of work, we’ve done some great things all season. … We’ve got an incredible resume as we move into the selection.”
DePaul never trailed in the second half after taking a 30-29 lead just before halftime.
The championship tournament was also held for the first time in Chicago after Connecticut hosted the past 10 years.
DePaul also finished atop the regular season standings for the first time since joining in 2005-06.
DePaul took an early 15-9 lead, but Handford scored five points in a 9-2 run that gave the Red Storm their first edge at 18-17 on a layup with 8:52 remaining.
Hrynko answered with a 3-pointer for a 20-18 Blue Demons lead. Three players later combined on seven unanswered points to put St. John’s up 25-22 with 4:11 remaining.