After starting the season a perfect 9-0, the Loyola women’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the year to No. 16-ranked city rival DePaul University 83-76 in a back-and-forth game at Gentile Arena Friday night.
DePaul took a 30-21 lead after the first quarter, but the Ramblers kept the game close and even took a lead of their own with 5:26 remaining in the fourth quarter of the game. Loyola managed to keep pace despite committing 28 turnovers compared to DePaul’s nine.
This is the third time Loyola head coach Kate Achter has faced DePaul, which entered the game with 9-2 record. In Achter’s first season, Loyola lost 88-47 on the road. Last year, the Ramblers fell 102-76 at home. This year, they only lost by seven points — and Achter said her team’s ability to bounce back was a big part of that.
“I saw a resiliency [this year] that I didn’t see a year ago,” Achter said after the game. “That’s been the case through all of our games this season. We might lose a lead and then we’d come back or we’d actually have a lead and relinquish it. [The players] believe differently in themselves. … That’s the major difference between last year’s team and this year’s team.”
Loyola entered the game ranked 56th in the Ratings Percentage Index — a metric which ranks teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule — while DePaul checked in at No. 15. Because of the Ramblers’ ranking, DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who was an assistant coach for the Loyola men’s basketball team from 1981-88, said he didn’t think the game was going to be easy for his Blue Demons. Despite beating Loyola by 26 points last season, he thought that was a closer game than the score indicated.
This year, he said he was impressed by what he saw out of Achter’s squad.
“People don’t understand that this team we played tonight is a No.  RPI team in the country,” said Bruno, who’s led DePaul to 23 NCAA tournaments since taking over the program in 1988. “You don’t do that just because you wave a magic wand. You do that by being 9-0 and beating the [teams] on your schedule. … This is a very good Loyola team, and I think they proved it tonight.”
Junior forward Abby O’Connor and sophomore forward Allison Day led Loyola with 16 points apiece while O’Connor chipped in nine rebounds. First-year guard Jala Johnson added 15 points, including the three-pointer to put Loyola ahead in the fourth quarter.
After Johnson made the trey, Bruno called a timeout. In Loyola’s huddle, Achter said she told the team to “keep freaking going” and “keep the foot on the gas.” Johnson, meanwhile, said she saw it as a chance to pull off the upset once she saw it hit the bottom of the net.
“When I first shot it, I was like, ‘We got ‘em. This is our opportunity to beat the No. 16 team in the country,’” Johnson said. “I think it gave my team a boost that we needed. It felt good … as a freshman to make that shot is pretty [huge].”
The Ramblers are set to play one more non-conference game before starting Missouri Valley Conference action in January. Achter said the goal is simple: head into league play with the best non-conference mark in program history.
“We can’t hang our heads,” Achter said. This isn’t a loss that you hang your head about. … We said in the huddle, ‘We’re not done.’ We want to finish this non-conference the best we’ve ever finished it.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to wrap up non-conference play Dec. 30 against Western Michigan University at Gentile Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game can be streamed on ESPN+.