St. John's guard Aliyyah Handford (3) looks up the basket as DePaul guard Brittany Hrynko, left, guards during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the final of the 2014 Big East women's basketball tournament in Rosemont, Ill., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: March 11, 2014 11:05PM
DePaul was only 2-2 to start its Big East conference schedule in January, and coach Doug Bruno wondered how the season would turn out.
As they cut down the nets at Allstate Arena Tuesday night as conference tournament champions, he had his answer.
``I wasn’t sure if this team had it in them to turn it around,’’ he said after the Blue Demons defeated No. 2 seed St. John’s 65-57. ``St. John’s was waxing us on Jan. 11. I personally knew we had our collective hands full.
``But this was a great group of young women to coach. These players are special.’’
The No. 23 Blue Demons (27-6) completed their dominance of the league, capping their regular season title with the tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that goes with it.
The victory was the 16th in their last 17 games and gave DePaul its first conference title of any kind since 1993 when they won the Great Midwest Conference championship.
Senior forward Jasmine Penny was named tournament MVP and junior guard Brittany Hrynko was named to the all-tournament team after leading the Blue Demons with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists against the Red Storm (22-10).
``This was one of our goals, and to see us work so hard through the year and achieve it was amazing,’’ Penny said.
The Blue Demons trailed only once in the second half when St. John’s went ahead 32-30 in the opening minute. But junior Megan Rogowski hit a three-pointer for the Blue Demons seconds later and DePaul never trailed again.
St. John’s came within five at 60-55 with 45 seconds remaining, but DePaul made five of six free throws in the closing seconds to assure the outcome.
St. John’s sophomore Aliyyah Handford had 13 points and six rebounds to lead her team and also was named to the all-tournament team.
DePaul will head to its 12th straight NCAA Tournament.
``I didn’t realize we hadn’t won a conference title since 1993, but the regular season title and getting to the NCAA Tournament to me is so much more important,’’ Bruno said. ``I’m hoping this gets us a five or six seed because that’s a major deal in the women’s tournament [with a field of 64].’’
DePaul has been rising in the national polls, ranked No. 25 to end the regular season last week and climbing to No. 23 this week.
In winning the Big East title in the newly configured conference, DePaul takes over from past perennial conference champ Connecticut and Notre Dame, which won last year’s conference title and went on to win the national championship.
``The torch has been passed to a new Big East and we want to step up this program to be those kinds of programs,’’ Bruno said.