No longer in conference, DePaul game still crucial

By Todd McMahon

NIU women’s basketball head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said if a rivalry is to exist, “you have to at least go with them 50-50.”

So, it’s only natural the Huskies are due for a victory tonight against archrival DePaul. Trailing 13-5 in the overall series, NIU will try to salvage a win and some respect at 7 p.m. at Chick Evans Field House.

DePaul (10-8) comes in with a three-game winning streak against the Huskies, dating back to a pivotal game between the two teams last Feb. 28. A 79-74 Blue Demon win in front of 3,387 at the fieldhouse ended NIU’s 26-game winning streak in the North Star Conference.

One week later, DePaul pulled out a 91-84 triumph in the last NSC meeting of the two schools at the league tournament in Green Bay, Wisc.

Although DePaul left the NSC and moved to the Great Midwest Conference this season, the Huskies and Blue Demons have agreed to keep the rivalry going.

Last month (Jan. 2), DePaul won its third straight over NIU, 72-59, before 4,498 (an Alumni Hall attendance high for women’s basketball).

Albright-Dieterle and DePaul head coach Doug Bruno both agree the rivalry remains strong for both teams even though they’re not in the same conference.

“The rivalry is certainly the same with our team,” Albright-Dieterle said. “Hopefully the community still thinks it’s a rivalry, even though it’s not for first place in the conference like it has been in the past.”

“It’s a great rivalry,” Bruno said. “Coach Albright-Dieterle is a great person, and that’s why we should be playing. But the conference added the extra incentive.”

And the sixth-year Blue Demon coach (101-56 career record) can’t wait to come back to the fieldhouse. “We really love Evans Field House,” he said. “The support these people give to their women’s program is phenomenal.

“You could put those fans in Durham, N.C. (Duke University), and you’d have the same type of atmosphere. They are such rabid fans.”

In addition to hoping for another big crowd, Albright-Dieterle noted state pride playing a part. “Just like when we played Southern Illinois earlier this year, you want to be the best team in the state before anything,” she said. “If DePaul beats you, you can’t say that.”

And for the Huskies to claim that honor, they must take care of DePaul junior Rita Hale, who scored a career-high 30 points in the first meeting this year, and shake off the pain from that defeat.

“When we were at DePaul, they totally embarrassed us and humiliated us,” Albright-Dieterle said. “It forced us to look in the mirror at a lot of things, and I think we’ve been a better team since then.”