It's been four years since DePaul won an NCAA tournament game. Vanderbilt has reached the round of 16 the last two seasons, but neither is enough for coach Melanie Balcomb to believe her Commodores have reason to look past their first-round opponent.
Making a school-record 11th straight tournament appearance, the sixth-seeded Commodores face the No. 11 seed Blue Demons on Sunday in Cincinnati.Despite another strong season in 2009-10, Vanderbilt (22-10) still feels the sting of its exit from last year's NCAA tournament. With a trip to the regional finals on the line, the Commodores blew an 18-point first-half lead and lost 78-74 to Maryland."We're never going to forget that last game," guard Jenice Rhoads said. "Unfortunately."There's a lot to be learned from it. We have to share our experience from previous tournaments with the younger kids, the freshmen, so they'll be ready to play."Despite that loss, it would be easy for the Vanderbilt to look ahead this year. It's the higher seed, hasn't lost a first-round game since 1998 and might earn a second-round matchup with third seed and fifth-ranked Xavier, the school where Balcomb won 135 games as coach from 1995-2002."I don't want to look past anybody," Balcomb said. "I don't want to even talk about anybody but the opponent we're going to face."That's because DePaul (21-11) finished 9-7 in the tough Big East and is making its eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Demons, who haven't won a game since reaching the round of 16 in 2006, like to push the ball behind junior guard Sam Quigley (13.1 points, 5.2 assists per game)."You can't take anyone lightly, because everyone comes ready to play in the tournament," said Rhoads, an all-SEC first-team pick who's averaging 13.5 points and a team-leading 5.0 assists.Vanderbilt's success could depend on how well it shoots from 3-point range. The Commodores were second in the SEC, shooting 37.4 percent from beyond the arc, but went 3 of 17 from long range in a 68-49 loss to then-No. 4 Tennessee in the semifinals of the league tournament March 6.Senior Merideth Marsh averages a team-leading 14.9 points and is shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range.DePaul has played well down the stretch, winning five in a row before falling to then-No. 7 West Virginia 47-41 in the Big East tournament quarterfinals Feb. 7.Doug Bruno's team recorded its third straight 20-win season despite losing star guard Deirdre Naughton (14.2 ppg) to an ACL injury in late November. Quigley took over, running the offense and providing leadership in place of the injured senior."Sam has been awesome," Bruno said of Quigley, who averaged 9.9 points as a sophomore. "She's just been a kid that just has been really, really special to our program this season because of the adversity we've faced in losing players."Vanderbilt leads 4-2 in the all-time series with DePaul, but this is the first meeting since the Blue Demons won 89-67 in 1998.