With Rogowski's shooting, DePaul aiming high
And then there was one. Again.
The DePaul women's basketball team started the postseason last weekend as the only team from the state of Illinois -- men's or women's -- to get an invitation to the big dance, the NCAA tournament.
Now, the seventh-seeded Blue Demons (29-6) are the only representative still alive from the revamped Big East Conference, men's or women's. They'll take on No. 3 Texas A&M (26-8) in the Sweet 16 at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) in the Lincoln, Neb., regional.
Led by sharpshooting Hersey product Megan Rogowski, DePaul is hitting 3-pointers at a record rate and playing its best basketball of the season.
The Blue Demons put on an offensive show in a 104-100 win over No. 10 Oklahoma in the opening round and then held off No. 2 Duke, a top 10 team all season, 74-65, on Duke's own floor.
"To be a seven seed and beat a two seed, on (its) home court, at crunchtime of the season, this is what we play for," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said after the Duke win. "This absolutely has to be the biggest win of the season for this group of women."
Rogowski, who ranks third in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (45.7 percent) and ranks fourth in the nation with 3.26 made 3-pointers per game, is coming off a 22-point performance against Duke in which she went 6-of-12 from 3-point range. With 10 made 3-pointers thus far, Rogowski leads the NCAA tournament field in that category.
As a team against Duke, the up-tempo, quick-trigger Blue Demons hit a season-high 14 (of 33) 3-pointers. On the season, DePaul has knocked down a school-record 310 3-pointers and is averaging nearly nine (8.9) 3-pointers per game, which ranks 12th in the nation.
"The 3-pointers … that's DePaul ball," said DePaul point guard Brittany Hrynko, who hit four of seven 3-pointers against Duke. "Coach (Bruno) lets us shoot. We share the ball, and if you're open, shoot it. There were some plays when Megan Rogowski would knock the shot down (against Duke) and the Duke players would kind of hang their heads."
And amazingly, Rogowski wasn't even at her most prolific from downtown. She hit a career-high eight 3-pointers in a win over Providence in January. After the game, she talked about the confidence Bruno gives his shooters by telling them they have the "greenest green light in America."
"Take the shot as long as you're open, and it's a good shot," Rogowski said of the philosophy. "Coach encourages you to take that shot. It's about finding your shot and knocking it down."
The setup for the 3-point shot begins with DePaul's crisp passing -- the Blue Demons rank third in the nation with 19.8 assists per game -- and its focus on penetration from the point.
"With 3-pointers, we look to balance the threes with opening up things to drive," Bruno said. "(Point guards Brittany Hrynko and Chanise Jenkins) did a great job (against Duke of) penetrating into the paint and drawing the defense before passing it back out."
Jenkins and Hrynko combined for 13 of DePaul's 19 assists against Duke and Hrynko was one of four Blue Demons to score in double-figures with 14 points. Former Trinity star Megan Podkowa had 18 points and Jasmine Penny added 11 points.
"This group has a chance to be the most productive team we've ever had," Bruno said. "We've gone to the Sweet 16 twice before. Let's see if this group can take it to the Elite Eight.
"We are still a work in progress, but we're starting to get there now at just the right time of the season against some of the better teams in the country."
Their first Elite Eight appearance awaits if they can get by a big and physical Texas A&M team. The winner gets either No. 12 BYU (28-6) or No. 1 Connecticut, which face off in the first game in Lincoln (3:30 p.m., ESPN).
Of course, Connecticut is 36-0, and the defending national champions are heavily favored to repeat the feat.
"We have already been to the Sweet 16 before," Podkowa said. "A win on Saturday would make this program even bigger than it already is."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter @babcockmcgraw.