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updated: 3/22/2013 7:35 PM

Healthy DePaul braced for NCAA tournament

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  • In last year's NCAA tournament, DePaul's Anna Martin, left, wore only one knee brace. This time, the gritty Blue Demon guard will open tournament play with a brace on both knees.

    In last year's NCAA tournament, DePaul's Anna Martin, left, wore only one knee brace. This time, the gritty Blue Demon guard will open tournament play with a brace on both knees.
    Associated Press/2012 file


A clanking sound in basketball is never good.

Anna Martin hears it more than she'd like. And no, the senior guard from DePaul isn't misfiring wildly on too many of her shots.

Martin makes clanking noises even when her shots are swishing or kissing softly off the glass. That's what happens when you're wearing not one, but two knee braces. Sometimes, you clank against yourself.

"Playing with two knee braces is hard, it's really hard," Martin said. "I like to be fast on the court, and I don't always feel that way with the braces."

But for DePaul, a slightly slower Martin is better than no Martin at all.

Martin, who averages 15.7 points per game and is the team's emotional leader, missed five weeks this season (and DePaul went 5-4) while she waited for a bone bruise on her knee to heal. She now wears a brace on that knee for protection, along with a brace on her other knee for stability. She had surgery in the offseason on that knee to repair some wear-and-tear damage.

Although she's still not fully recovered from the bone bruise, Martin has played well enough in recent weeks to help the 21-11 Blue Demons earn a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. They'll face No. 7 Oklahoma State at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) in Durham, NC.

"Sometimes I feel like a linebacker out there with the braces and when I first put the second one on, I was like, 'There's no way I can do this, there's no way I can wear two,'" Martin said. "But I'm getting used to it and I know it helps me to be able to play. The good thing is, I'm starting to feel more like myself."

Likewise, the Blue Demons are looking more the way they should, too. DePaul is the only team from Illinois to earn a spot in the tourney -- their 11th straight berth.

Martin wasn't the only DePaul player to miss time with an injury. For the second consecutive year, DePaul worked the training staff hard as the roster shrunk to seven active players at one point.

Former Hersey star Megan Rogowski was out for several weeks with a broken hand. Fellow backcourt mate Kelsey Reynolds was out with a broken foot, and former St. Charles North standout Kelsey Smith had knee trouble. Freshman Megan Podkowa from Trinity was out early in the season with an illness.

All of them are now back and ready to play.

"It's been a struggle all season long with injuries," Martin said. "But we're starting to work and mesh because everyone is getting healthy. This last week has been one of our first weeks all season to be able to practice with everyone.

"I think we're going to hit our stride in the tournament. We haven't played our best basketball yet because we haven't really played together. I'm hoping we can play our best basketball in the tournament."

Long road back:

It's been three years since Oklahoma State, DePaul's first-round opponent, made the NCAA tournament field.

However, finding a way back hasn't been the Cowgirls' biggest concern. Finding a way to move forward has.

In November of 2011, the program was hit with heartbreaking tragedy when a plane carrying head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna on a recruiting trip crashed in Arkansas. Budke and Serna were among four people killed.

The crash occurred about 10 years after another one rocked the OSU athletic department. In 2001, a plane that took off near Boulder, Colo., after a men's game crashed east of Denver, killing two players, six officials associated with the team and two pilots.

Respect factor:

The Big Ten will be fighting not just for wins in the NCAA tournament, but also for respect.

I thought league champion Penn State deserved a No. 2 seed. Instead, the Lady Lions got a No. 3 seed. That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but a No. 2 seed is definitely more conducive to a Final Four run.

Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky and Cal got the No. 2 seeds, but only Duke had a better RPI, and only Tennessee had a tougher schedule than PSU.

Penn State is ranked sixth in RPI and ninth in strength of schedule. Cal, the most suspect No. 2 seed of the bunch, has a No. 9 RPI ranking and is 37th in strength of schedule.

Home cooking:

Three state teams made the WNIT: Illinois, Illinois State and Eastern Illinois.

Crystal ball:

I'm thinking the national championship game will be a replay from last year: Baylor beats Notre Dame.

Question: Does anyone out there have a different prediction? Anyone? Anyone at all?

Bueller? Bueller?

• Patricia Babcock McGraw was a color analyst for DePaul women's basketball this season, as well as the Big Ten and IHSA TV networks.

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