DePaul tops St. John’s for Big East women’s title

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.

The lead changed hand twice more before DePaul took a 30-29 advantage into the half after Rogowski’s layup with 37 seconds left.

DePaul led by seven points through the mid stages of the second half, including a 49-42 edge at the 9:57 mark on Rogowski’s layup off an inbound pass.

The Red Storm closed the gap to four at 57-53 on Brown’s 3-pointer with 2:24 left. Rogowski followed with two free throws and Penny banked in a shot with 1:54 left for a 60-53 lead.

Brown recovered a loose ball for a layup to cut the DePaul lead to 60-55 with 45 seconds to play, but Chanise Jenkins hit a pair of free throws two seconds later to restore a seven-point lead.

Connecticut captured seven Big East tournament titles from 2005-12, plus last year’s NCAA championship. Notre Dame won the 2013 league tourney on the way to its third straight Final Four appearance.

Both remained unbeaten after winning conference titles this week and are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally.

”They’re off the charts,” Bruno said. ”I never felt bad about what we achieved in the previous Big East. It was no disgrace to get to the semifinals in that league. If you could go to the final four of the old Big East, you could go to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.”

Whether the new Big East produces a Final Four entry won’t be known until next month. But the current 10-team league – eight from the previous league plus Butler and Creighton – now features more balance and competitive play.

Regular-season champion DePaul was 15-3 in conference play while runner-up St. John’s went 13-5.

In Monday’s semifinals, St. John’s had to rally in the second half to force the first overtime then a second before beating Creighton. DePaul held off a late Marquette comeback and didn’t secure its win until hitting six free throws in the final minute.