DePaul's 'perfectionist' eyes UConn
Sam Quigley leads the Blue Demons against nation's top team
Seated on DePaul's bench in street clothes two years ago, Sam Quigley was only a few feet away from her older sister when Allie hit a baseline jumper to put the Blue Demons ahead by two points over No. 1 Connecticut with 30 seconds remaining at McGrath Arena.
The upset would be spoiled by a miraculous comeback, but that moment is still vivid for Quigley. DePaul was a middle-of-the-pack Big East team that had played fearlessly on its home court and, in doing so, nearly beaten the top team in the country. Allie Quigley, who is playing professionally in Hungary, had a career game with 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Two years later, Sam Quigley, now a junior, is ready to duplicate that evening as Connecticut returns to McGrath Arena on Wednesday. Just like last time, the Huskies are ranked No. 1, DePaul enters the game with a .500 conference record and the Blue Demons will need a Quigley to have a memorable performance to have a chance.
"I'm actually not very nervous," said Quigley, who missed the home game two years ago with a torn ACL. "I'm more excited. The show's coming into town and everything. They're the No. 1 team in the nation, and they have a lot of best players in the nation. We honestly have nothing to lose. They've got the undefeated record. We're going to go out there, try our best and if a win comes out of that, great."
Heading into the season, DePaul wasn't thought of as Quigley's team. She was more of the complementary piece to star player Deirdre Naughton, who received all the preseason accolades. With the backcourt of Quigley and Naughton, a few other returnees, and a talented freshman class, the Blue Demons were ranked in the Top 25 and picked to be among the Big East's elite teams.
That changed, though, when Naughton tore her ACL in the team's fifth game and was lost for the rest of the season. The Blue Demons needed someone to replace her ability to get a triple-double on any given night.
DePaul coach Doug Bruno never had to tell Quigley that she needed to step up. Both just knew it.
"It's a classic example of a player who was already tough, who was already a leader and was already very, very good for this team understanding on her own that there's more to be done here," Bruno said. "We're not going to wallow in self-pity. We're going to roll up our sleeves and make something happen here. The role had not been stated, 'You have to score more.' I do think Sam has had to replace Deirdre's intangibles, but also her points, rebounds and assists."
The role wasn't a reach for Quigley. It's basically what she did in her last two years at Joliet Catholic. There, as at DePaul, she played nearly every minute of every game, shot the ball, passed the ball, rebounded the ball and defended. As a senior, she was an all-state player while averaging 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Now, she's averaging 14.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals while playing 38 minutes a game.
Quigley isn't exactly happy with herself this season -- she admits she's rarely happy, though -- but Bruno has been impressed.
"That's the definition of Sam Quigley: She's a perfectionist," he said. "I think she's been very intelligent about [her role]. She's available to shoot. She's pretty fearless when it comes to shooting the ball. At the same time, if the defense keys on her, she's very willing to share it. What's interesting, too, is I think her defense is as good as it's ever been at DePaul. She's doing it all at all ends."
Quigley actually has played better in the always-tough Big East conference play. In 10 conference games, she has averaged 16.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals in 40.2 minutes a game.
How does she average 40.2 minutes? Well, she has played nearly the full length of every game and played all 45 minutes of an overtime contest against West Virginia.
"Every college player wants to play 40 minutes until they have to do it," Bruno said. "It certainly doesn't take a toll on her, but we don't have a lot of options right now. With the youth of the ballclub, there's nothing we've been able to do to get her off the floor."
Quigley doesn't mind the minutes. She just rests extra on the team's days off. She also understands that it's what needed from her.
Because the Blue Demons are young and inexperienced, they have been full of inconsistencies. They lost by 36 at No. 2 Stanford and bounced back the next week to beat No. 6 Florida State by 15 points. Their Big East schedule has been more of the same. They're 5-5 heading into a brutal week of facing No. 1 Connecticut followed by No. 3 Notre Dame.
"I think that it's going to take a lot of us being on at the same time [to win these games]," Quigley said. "We haven't done that. There's not a better time for that to happen. I feel, and I'm sure every team is saying this, that we have to have one great game to happen for us, and everyone will be on the same page."
Bruno foresaw one of three outcomes against Connecticut.
"One, we're going to get waxed like everyone else has got waxed," Bruno said. "Two, we're going to be the most competitive team UConn has had to face, and UConn still wins. Third, we're going to be the 'Miracle on Ice.'
"It's our job to make it two of those things."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.