NCAA Tournament

No. 11 seed Missouri State women stun DePaul 89-78 in NCAA Tournament opener

The Missouri State women’s basketball team surprised some by upsetting Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse Drake to claim the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

The 11th-seeded Bears apparently aren’t done playing above expectations.

Alexa Willard and Danielle Gitzen each scored 20 points and Missouri State stunned sixth-seeded DePaul 89-78 on Saturday, snapping the Blue Demons’ five-game winning streak in opening-round NCAA Tournament games.

Freshman Elle Ruffridge had a career-high 15 points for the surprisingly stout Bears (24-9), tournament winners for the first time since 2001. They’ll face No. 3 seed Iowa State, the host school, on Monday after shooting 52.5 percent and hitting 11 three-pointers in the upset over the Blue Demons.

“We’re really excited,” Missouri State coach Kellie Harper said. “We just had a lot of confidence, and they believed in each other.”

Missouri State also used its superior size in racing out to a 42-33 lead by halftime, and Gitzen’s three early in the third quarter pushed the Bears’ lead to 55-40.

The Blue Demons responded with a 15-7 run that kept the game from getting away from them. But Ruffridge — who set the state record for points at nearby Pocahontas Area High in Iowa — drilled a three just before third-quarter buzzer that put Missouri State back on top 69-56.

Even when things seemed to go wrong for the Bears they ended up right. Willard air-balled a three with 8:50 to go — but it turned out to be a perfect entry pass for Abby Hipp, a Kansas City native who went to St. Pius X, whose ensuing layup made it 73-59. Hipp scored nine points.

“Everyone did what they needed to do for it to be a success,” Gitzen said.

Chante Stonewall and Ashton Millender each had 17 points for DePaul (26-8), which had won its previous 11 games. The Blue Demons trailed by as many as 21 points and shot just 10 of 35 on threes.

“What you have to do to stay in (the NCAA Tournament) is simple. You have to defend. You have to rebound,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.