March 19, 2009

DePaul enters this NCAA tournament looking to avoid a first-round exit for the third straight year. To do so, the Blue Demons will have to beat lower-seeded San Diego State on the Aztecs' home court - something no team has done this season.

Seventh-seeded DePaul takes on No. 10 San Diego State on Saturday at Cox Arena, looking to deal the Aztecs their first defeat there in 15 games this season.

The Blue Demons (23-9) are making their seventh consecutive appearance in the tournament, but the last two have been disappointments. DePaul was routed 76-57 by Marist in the first round last season, a year after giving up the winning basket with 2.5 seconds left in a 55-54 loss to Georgia Tech in its NCAA tourney opener.

This year, coach Doug Bruno's team didn't benefit from drawing a higher seed than in its opening-round opponent, which would play at home for the first two rounds.

"That's life. You have to take what you get and that's Saturday in San Diego," Bruno said. "There's no question it will be a road game because it will be on their home court."

DePaul went 7-6 away from home this season and will be facing a San Diego State team that outscored opponents 68.1-53.0 in going 14-0 at Cox Arena.

The Blue Demons, though, come in having won three of four and 10 of their last 14. DePaul nearly knocked off then-No. 14 Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament March 8, as it led by five with 1:40 left but went on to lose 62-59.

While that defeat was painful, DePaul has needed the time off to allow two key players to heal.

Senior forward Natasha Williams, second on the team with 14.2 points per game, has a sprained MCL in her left knee. Sophomore forward Felicia Chester, averaging 7.2 points, hasn't played since injuring her left ankle Feb. 28 against Marquette. Both are expected to play Saturday.

DePaul hopes its offensive balance will allow it to overcome those players being limited by injury. Four Blue Demons averaged double figures in points, led by Deirdre Naughton, who scores 15.5 per game.

Naughton struggled against Pitt, going 2-of-15 from the field and finishing with eight points.

While the Blue Demons face a tough task in the opening round, they were preparing themselves for their potential first-round opponent before it was announced.

"We had an inkling that we would be matched up with San Diego State," said junior Sam Quigley, averaging 10.2 points this season. "I kind of saw them play a little bit last week and they're very athletic."

The Aztecs (23-7) boast size inside as well as scoring on the perimeter. Junior guards Jene Morris (15.5 points per game) and Quenese Davis (11.4) complement 6-foot-4 sophomore center Paris Johnson, who averages 14.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, and junior forward Jennifer Layton-Bales, who's at 9.3 points and 5.1 rebounds a contest.

DePaul should be up to the challenge underneath, as Williams and Chester - both 6-3 - combine to average 12.5 rebounds. Naughton, at 5-10, contributes 5.1 boards per game.

San Diego State will have had a week to think about its stunning 63-58 loss to Utah in the Mountain West Conference tournament final. The Aztecs led throughout the second half but were outscored 11-0 during a 3 1/2-minute stretch as the Utes took command.

San Diego State had a six-game winning streak snapped, and will have plenty of support in the stands as it makes its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997.

"It's been working towards our favor," Johnson said of home-court advantage. "We're 14-0 on our home court and just playing our first game as an NCAA tournament team. What more could you ask for? We're going to be playing in front of our fans on our home court, which is going to be great."

DePaul and San Diego State will be meeting for the first time.