DURHAM, N.C. -- Exactly one year to the day after DePaul limped out of Cameron Indoor Stadium battered, bruised and beaten in a first-round game against Oklahoma State that almost no one outside of Stillwater has reason to remember, the Blue Demons had a hop in their step as they prepared to head home -- if only briefly this time. The Sweet 16 awaits, after all.
It was second-seeded Duke that limped away, a team already shorthanded left with heavy legs and tired tears.
The NCAA tournament said goodbye to its first contender Monday when seventh-seeded DePaul scored a 74-65 victory against second-seeded Duke, the first such seed to miss out on the Sweet 16 in three years after its first NCAA tournament loss at Cameron in 20 games stretching across 18 years of postseason basketball.
It was an upset. It was small beating big. But it was not David taking down Goliath. Just one team with the four smallest players on the court and a plan beating a bigger team that couldn't get to its plan.
DePaul may have lacked size, but defensive pressure and good shooting gave it all the leverage it needed.
"That's the game within the game," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "You're trying to play to your strengths, and the opposing coach is always trying to play to their strengths -- whoever can get to be able to play to your strengths the best. We knew there was no way we could have guarded their size, and the strength and talent of Elizabeth Williams inside, with a 20-foot defense. So that was the plan, was to try and wear them down and wear them down over time."
The plan was to pressure the ball at every turn against a team left without a true point guard after injuries to Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones. Don't let the ball get into the hands of the collection of big bodies who punished Winthrop two days earlier and better teams than the Big South champion in an ACC tournament run. Do it all without losing track of Tricia Liston.
And then knock down a lot of 3-pointers on the other team's home court.
Sounds good on paper, but it's more difficult when the ball tips. And it's more difficult when the 6-foot-3 Williams rolls to the basket while the 6-foot-1 Liston spots up and gazes over perimeter defenders -- the reason why four of Duke's previous six losses this season came against teams that remain unbeaten.
But the pressure did work this night. Duke did look like a team without a point guard from the outset Monday. After eight minutes, the Blue Devils had eight field goal attempts and seven turnovers. After nearly 13 minutes, it was 13 field goal attempts and 10 turnovers. Even when the Blue Devils broke pressure, traps and double teams awaited almost any time an offensive player picked up her dribble near the paint. The only saving grace was that DePaul struggled to hit shots of its own early, making it more difficult for the Blue Demons to set up full-court pressure.
"I think they were very aggressive defensively," Duke's Haley Peters said. "They were really up on top of our ball handlers, and we didn't handle it very well. ... We just got a little bit rattled, I think, by how aggressive and how much pressure they put on us. So we didn't execute very well."