Top-ranked UConn will help DePaul women break in new arena Friday night

Updated 12/7/2017 7:18 PM
  • Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma brings his No. 1-ranked Connecticut Huskies will be in Chicago on Friday to help the DePaul women's basketball team officially break in brand new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop.

    Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma brings his No. 1-ranked Connecticut Huskies will be in Chicago on Friday to help the DePaul women's basketball team officially break in brand new Wintrust Arena in the South Loop. Associated press

The new 10,000-seat Wintrust Arena on Chicago's South Loop has been open for a few weeks now. But as far as the DePaul women's basketball team is concerned, it's about to get officially christened.

Connecticut is coming to town.

Yep, the nation's top-ranked UConn Huskies, winners of six of the past 10 NCAA national championships, will be at Wintrust Arena at 6 p.m. on Friday to take on DePaul, the most successful women's basketball team in this state over the last decade.

"This is our grand opening (for Wintrust)," said DePaul coach Doug Bruno. "We've had some soft openings (three prior home games this season). If you open up restaurants, soft openings are for friends, and then you have a grand opening.

"Our men's grand opening was against Notre Dame (last month). Our grand opening is Friday against UConn."

UConn is certainly worthy of a grand opening. Few programs in the history of college sports can match the impact and influence the Connecticut women have had.

"Connecticut, along with Tennessee, has done more for women's basketball than anyone," Bruno said.

The Tennessee juggernauts of the 1980s and 1990s, under the guidance of the legendary Pat Summitt, helped take women's college basketball from an afterthought to a sport that sells out large arenas for the Final Four.

Once UConn got good, matchups between Tennessee and Connecticut were epic, and regularly shown on national television.

Bruno has never shied from playing Tennessee or Connecticut. Over his 30-plus years at DePaul, Bruno has sought out both programs. DePaul has an all-time combined record of 1-34 against Connecticut and Tennessee, but the lure of playing against the best, and learning from the best keeps Bruno and the Blue Demons coming back.

Plus, a schedule that is more pound cake than cupcake is a convincing recruiting device.

"One of the reasons I came here is that we play teams like (Connecticut)," DePaul sophomore guard Kelly Campbell said. "I always wanted to play against them, if I couldn't play for them."

Added teammate Amarah Coleman, a senior guard: "I always dreamed about playing against Connecticut and now that I have the chance I'm going to have fun and go out there and compete."

Bruno, who was sitting next to Coleman, couldn't resist letting his dry humor show.

"Now ... tell the truth: You always dreamed of playing FOR UConn, and then when they didn't recruit you..."

Bruno will have to keep his sense of humor for Friday. Last year in Connecticut, his Blue Demons were hammered by the Huskies, 91-46. Connecticut will be a heavy favorite this time, too.

Connecticut returns three all-Americans from last year's 36-1 Final Four team in Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams. Currently, six players are averaging double-figures for the Huskies, who are 7-0 and ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press Poll and the ESPN coaches poll.

Connecticut is coming off a win against No. 3 Notre Dame, also a DePaul opponent this season.

"Our job is to make this event not an exhibition event, but a competitive event," said Bruno, who also has six players averaging double-figures for a run-and-gun team that scores 92 points per game. "I schedule them every year because every year the national championship goes through UConn. We played Tennessee for years when most every national championship went through Tennessee.

"If I'm going to ask my players to be fearless, then I have to be fearless (with the schedule)."

DePaul, which is 6-2 and just recently dropped out of the Top 25 with losses to Northern Colorado and Florida Gulf Coast, has already beaten a top 25 team this season in then-No. 21 Oklahoma. The Blue Demons face No. 3 Notre Dame in South Bend next weekend and a tough Northwestern team on Wednesday.

For now, Bruno is just hoping local basketball fans come out to support some of the best women's basketball that will be played in Chicago this winter.

"The No. 1 team in the country is coming to town," Bruno said. "We have a city here of 8 million people in the metropolitan area. We're trying to get 10,000 people here to come watch an event. Can somebody get excited about that?"

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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