ROSEMONT, Ill. – DePaul coach Doug Bruno gave Pat Summitt a big hug before the opening tip and a big dose of credit after the final buzzer.
The way he sees it, Tennessee gave DePaul a big assist over the years — even if it ushered the Blue Demons out of the NCAA women's tournament on Monday night.
Shekinna Stricklen scored 17 points and Glory Johnson grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds to lead Summitt and Tennessee past DePaul 63-48 in the second round of the Des Moines Regional.
Vicki Baugh scored 16 for the Lady Volunteers (26-8), who grabbed a double-digit lead early in the second half and closed out a physical game in which players seemed to hit the floor about as often as they hit shots. Now, they're headed to the round of 16, where they'll meet third-seeded Delaware or 11th-seeded Kansas on Saturday.
DePaul, meanwhile, is still trying to get to Tennessee's level.
As successful as the Blue Demons have been over the years, cracking the Top 25 and making regular appearances in the tournament, the gap still exists. Even so, they're in a better spot because of what they learned from Summitt's program.
"The commitment and program growth at DePaul has ties to coach Summitt and coach Summitt's willingness to compete against DePaul when we were a fledgling program," Bruno said. "It helped me recruit players, it helped me teach own players what the top was all about."
The Blue Demons were within five at halftime, but Tennessee stretched it to 12 early in the second half and 42-29 after a hook shot by Baugh with 11:41 remaining. The Lady Vols remained in control from there and moved closer toward their ultimate goal — a 19th Final Four and ninth NCAA title.
The powerhouse program hasn't been that far since it repeated as champions in 2008, a nearly four-year drought that might as well be four decades given its history.
If the Lady Vols make it to Denver, that would be quite the story.
Summitt announced in early August that she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, and she might not coach beyond this season. There have been ups and downs on the court, too, but Tennessee appears to be in stride at the moment, with six straight wins after improving to 20-0 against the Blue Demons.
Tennessee routed DePaul in December in New York and prevailed this time on the court where the Blue Demons' men's team plays most of its home games.
The Lady Vols shot just over 37 percent but prevailed anyway thanks to a huge rebounding advantage, particularly in the second half. The final tally was 51-31 after Tennessee outrebounded the Blue Demons by two in the first half.
A big reason for that was Johnson. She simply controlled the glass on both ends of the court.
"My team relies on me to be a presence in the paint, and when I'm not scoring, I try to do my best to rebound offensively and defensively," said Johnson, who had eight points. "I know that's something I can control. It's effort. I try to put the effort and heart into defense and rebounding."
Anna Martin scored 20 points for DePaul (23-11), but a difficult season came to an end. The Blue Demons were hit hard by injuries, losing star Keisha Hampton (knee), and were forced to go with a seven-player rotation.
"I think a lot of people counted us out, but we're not that kind of program and we proved that in making the NCAA tournament in the first place and then pushing through into the second round," forward Katherine Harry said.