DePaul coach Doug Bruno is used to playing at Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion, where his ninth-seeded Blue Demons open the NCAA tournament against the Gophers at 4 p.m. Central time today. With 45 minutes until tipoff, the Irish's arena already is beginning to fill up.
Bruno doesn't expect the Blue Demons to have an advantage by playing in an arena they have seen before. He is thrilled, though, to have the tournament's first- and second-round games back at campus sites. The Irish have done a tremendous job of promoting the women's game--it helps, of course, to have a team that's been to the Final Four in each of the past four years--and the place promises to be vibrant for tonight's second game between Notre Dame and Montana.
The Irish have sold out four games this season at Purcell Pavilion, which seats 9,149. They average 8,835 per game, sixth in the nation. Bruno is hoping some of that atmosphere spills over to Friday's first game.
"This is back to the future,'' said Bruno, in his 29th season as DePaul's coach. "We as coaches made a decision that we need to go back to the top 16 teams hosting (the first and second rounds). It's what's best for women's basketball right now.
"Notre Dame has done one of the best jobs in the nation of marketing women's basketball and filling this arena up. This is why we said, 'Let (the top four seeds) have home court.' That's what we need as a sport. I'm thrilled for what Notre Dame has done to make this a great environment for women's basketball.''
So, what of the matchup? As we wrote Thursday, the Gophers hold a significant size advantage with Amanda Zahui B. and Shae Kelley. But they have to hold on to the basketball against DePaul's furious press, and they have to put the brakes on the Blue Demons' sharpshooters.
Bruno called Zahui "the best big kid in America'' and noted that she is not "a lone ranger.'' "This is a good team,'' he said of the Gophers. "The perimeter players are really good players. This is a very difficult and tough matchup, and we're excited to be competing against a team as good as Minnesota.
"You can't just sit here and say 'Oh, we've been to 13 (NCAA tournament appearances) in a row, so we have some sort of advantage.' This is a good basketball team we are playing.''
Though this will be the NCAA tournament debut for Gophers coach Marlene Stollings, she noted that assistants Nikita Lowry Dawkins and Fred Chmiel have been to multiple NCAA tournaments. "They know what this is all about,'' Stollings said.
Stollings called Bruno "a legend in our game'' and knows the Gophers will be facing an extremely well-prepared and well-coached team. "They shoot the three ball extremely well, and they get up and defend--and they do it for 40 minutes,'' she said of the Blue Demons. Those are things we really focused on a lot in practice the last couple of days.''
Check startribune.com for a game story shortly after the final buzzer, and come back for full coverage later in the evening. Enjoy the game!