LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For DePaul coach Doug Bruno, an injury to his best player is nothing new. It's happened three of the past fou2r years.
But now the absence of Anna Martin has shuffled the Blue Demons back into the middle of the Big East and could leave them fighting for an NCAA tournament bid.
"We're in a scramble mode," Bruno said following the Blue Demons' 81-55 loss at No. 10 Louisville on Sunday. "We're in Band-Aid mode. We're in a one-game-at-a-time mode."
Martin, the team's leading scorer at 16.2 points per outing, missed her seventh game after injuring her left knee against Providence on Jan. 19. She scored 22 in the Blue Demons' win over the Cardinals on Jan. 5.
The Blue Demons have lost three of their last five and will put their 13-game win streak at home on the line against No. 2 Notre Dame on Feb. 24.
Bruno, now in his 27th season at the helm of his alma mater, has been in the NCAA tournament the past three seasons but said injuries have taken their toll on his program.
"We've been playing wounded here for almost three, four years. I'd hate to think it's catching up with us but I'm starting to think it might," Bruno said.
Bruno said there's a chance Martin could play against Notre Dame but isn't sure when he'll get his star guard back.
"They definitely miss Anna there is no question about it. She is a special player. She's got a lot of fight in her," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said after the game. "I was expecting her to play today. I was surprised that she didn't to be honest."
Two freshmen filled the void for DePaul against Louisville but cold shooting doomed any chance for the upset. Chanise Jenkins led the Blue Demons (18-8, 7-5) with 16 points before fouling out with 5:11 remaining. Megan Podkowa had 14 points off the bench. Both were career highs.
The Cardinals (21-5, 9-3 Big East) held DePaul to season-low 25 percent shooting (16 of 65) and dominated inside with a 50-10 advantage on points in the paint.
Bria Smith scored a career-high 21 points and Sara Hammond had 17 points and 13 rebounds to push Louisville ahead for the win.
The Cardinals held DePaul to just 19 percent shooting in first 20 minutes (6 of 32) but could only muster a 29-23 lead at halftime.
"I really felt good that we were only chasing six at halftime with a really hideous shooting percentage," Bruno said. "But then the game really got away from us."
Louisville came out hot in the second half as Shoni Schimmel sank a three to start the half. Schimmel later helped stretch the lead to 39-26 when she set up Antonita Slaughter's layup with 17:52 remaining with a no-look pass.
Podkowa's jumper in the lane off an out-of-bounds play cut the Louisville lead to 50-38 with 13:52 left but DePaul would draw no closer.
Hammond's layup and free throw off an inbound capped an 8-0 run that put Louisville up 20 with 9:45 to play. The Cardinals pushed the lead to 77-47 with 2:14 left.
DePaul missed its first nine 3-pointers and started 3 of 23 from the field before Jenkins' triple with 4:42 left in the first half cut the Louisville lead to 23-14. It would be the only 3-pointer for Blue Demons in 14 first-half attempts. They finished 4 of 29 (14 percent) on shots from behind the arc.
The Blue Demons stayed close before the break with nine second-chance points and by holding Louisville to just six points in the final 7:36 of the half. But a Hammond layup to finish the opening half and Schimmel's three to start the final 20 minutes provided the spark Louisville needed for a second-half blowout.
DePaul's Katherine Harry, the Big East's leader with 10.7 rebounds a contest, had eight points and 13 rebounds but was scoreless in the second half. Bruno said Louisville's defense forced more jump shots in second half, keeping the Blue Demons out of the middle.
Jenkins said the Blue Demons had circled the trip to Louisville as key game for their NCAA tournament resume and now must prepare for Notre Dame.
"We knew coming in that Louisville was the game we had to get and unfortunately we didn't," Jenkins said. "Now, hopefully we get this one and still fight for our NCAA lives after that."