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Women’s basketball upsets DePaul for first BIG EAST title

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Marquette won its first BIG EAST Championship Tuesday night against DePaul at the Al McGuire Center.

Marquette won its first BIG EAST Championship Tuesday night against DePaul at the Al McGuire Center.

Photo by Austin Anderson

Photo by Austin Anderson

Marquette won its first BIG EAST Championship Tuesday night against DePaul at the Al McGuire Center.

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One year ago, the Marquette women’s basketball team was picked to finish last in the BIG EAST. It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

Tuesday night, they won the school’s first-ever women’s basketball BIG EAST Championship by upsetting top-seed DePaul, 86-78, in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Al McGuire Center.

“I think the thing I think of right now is our players are going to remember this for the rest of their lives and I am so happy for that,” an emotional Marquette head coach Carolyn Kieger said. She is the second youngest coach to win a BIG EAST Championship. “To do it at my alma mater in front of people that I love and care about really is a dream come true.”

After back-to-back 20-point performances, sophomore Amani Wilborn, who turned 20 years old Tuesday, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

“Heading into the tournament I was just thinking about the team winning, but I appreciate Coach for continuing to believe in me and believing in my strengths,” Wilborn said. “We just pulled it out. … It’s the best birthday I have ever had.”

The game began with both teams exchanging baskets at a rapid pace, with the teams combining for an astonishing 49 points in the first quarter. Marquette ended the frame with the slight 25-24 edge after McKayla Yentz made a steal at the DePaul 3-point line and passed the ball to Natisha Hiedeman, who took two dribbles and swooshed a half-court shot.

“I was like, it’s worth a shot,” Hiedeman said, who led her team with a season-high 28 points. “I don’t know. Might as well.”

In the second quarter, the Blue Demons started giving Wilborn a lot of one-on-one looks, and she responded by scoring eight points in the quarter.

“They were sagging off of me because my attacking abilities, and I just felt that was another way for me to get ahead of them. Attack them when they are on their heels and just finish with my athleticism,” Wilborn said.

Marquette held a 42-40 lead to start the third quarter, and the game would remain close as DePaul’s Amarah Coleman and Hiedeman each hit three 3-pointers for their respective teams.

The Golden Eagles finally created some distance between themselves and DePaul in the fourth quarter by holding the Blue Demons scoreless for the first four minutes of the quarter. Marquette gained a 75-68 advantage with 2:18 left to play, which was their biggest lead of the night.

Marquette seemed to have the win secured, but DePaul’s experience began to show when they began to press. Senior Jessica January hit a three to make the score 83-78 with .23 seconds left. However, the Golden Eagles would neutralize the threat and secure the 86-78 win. The victory moves Marquette to 6-0 against ranked teams this season and marks the third time the Golden Eagles have defeated DePaul this season. They were the only BIG EAST team to best the Blue Demons.

“We rebuilt the locker room a couple of years ago and I put a picture of the BIG EAST trophy on the wall specifically for this reason and said, ‘Nothing given, everything earned.’ And boy, did we earn that tonight. We earned it,” Kieger said.

The Golden Eagles now officially punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, which will be their first tournament appearance under Kieger. Marquette will learn their opponent Monday during the Selection Show.

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