DePauw women’s basketball means it when they say they’re focused

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GREENCASTLE – A funny thing happened at the end of another strong season for one of the winningest programs in Indiana this decade.

They lost.

It happened a bit unexpectedly, away from home at the end of the regular season. DePauw was down 15 points during the second half but rallied to take a five point lead in the final 90 seconds, only to fall to the Fighting Bishops.

On many levels it was shocking. It was the end of DePauw’s 58-game overall winning streak, 77-game regular season win streak and the conclusion of 30-straight on the road. Those are gaudy numbers often lauded on the outside and usually recognized on the inside as a concrete example of their success.

Yet DePauw, as some other teams have, denied the knowledge of such winning streaks. To a point where, when pressed just days before their loss to Ohio Wesleyan, they truly couldn’t name how long their winning streak was.

“I honestly don’t know,” said head coach Kris Huffman when asked point-blank about how long the streak is.

“I know it’s in the 50s from what people have told me,” said senior guard Ali Ross when asked the same question.

“I know it’s at 57,” said senior forward Alison Stephens, more willing to venture a guess. “I think….at 57.”

She was off by one at that particular time-the streak was at 58 at the time of the interview. Some may not think their denial of the knowledge of their success is genuine, but aside from the contest at Ohio Wesleyan they have stayed true to their mindset.

After blitzing through the 2012-2013 season with little resistance in going 34-0 and capturing their second Division III National Championship in six seasons, the Tigers made similar work of the next season as they won their first 24 games. Even after the loss last Saturday, the Tigers opened their NCAC tournament with a 31-point win over Wooster.

“We don’t pay attention to our record, we don’t count the games we’ve won,” said senior forward Alex Gasaway. “It’s hard to think about last year. Obviously we know that number-34-0-but we’re trying not to pay attention to last year because we’re a completely new team.”

That is true in some ways since the Tigers lost two of their top four scorers from the national championship team of 2013. It hasn’t stopped them too much since the team is averaging 75 points a game and their average margin of victory is 25 points. Savannah Trees (13.7 points per game), Gasaway (12 points per game) and Emma Ondik (10 points per game) have led the way on the offensive end and have kept the Tigers ahead of their opponents for all but a small portion of the season.

But for Huffman, the subtle changes from the 2013 are easily apparent, making it hard to draw comparisons when thinking about winning streaks.

“Part of that streak was last year’s team,” said Huffman. “We certainly are a different and a new team this year. We still want to be a great defensive team rebounding team. I think our guard play has picked up. We have a little less experience in the forward court. So we maybe just shifted where our strengths are a little bit.

“Although these new players have stepped up and have provided that stability on both courts”

The players, however, point to Huffman as the key to their continued success and built-up winning streaks. Entering her 21st season at the school, Huffman has won over 80 of her games in Greencastle and has a pair of national championships as well.

It is with her, according to the Tigers, that their mentality on the court begins.

“Coach Huffman is so great at making us focus that moment, what’s coming next that a lot of us don’t feel that pressure,” said Ross when asked about the team feeling like they need to live up to their winning ways of the past. “It’s kinda nice.”

Perhaps it will give them an advantage in the coming weeks when the true defense of their national championship begins. Even with their long winning streak snapped the Tigers will be the team to beat entering March and are a favorite to reach the championships at Quandt Fieldhouse in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

As you might imagine, the hope is not to think that far ahead just yet.

“Try not to think of the end, hanging another banner. Obviously that’s the goal but taking it game-by-game is the way you get there,” said Stephens. “Having that in mind is really important.”

Especially when the number of wins in a row are not.