Guru Report: Delle Donne Leads Delaware To Break-Thru Win
NEWARK, Del. – When Delaware hosted Virginia Commonwealth Thursday night the Colonial Athletic Association contest at the Blue Hens’ Carpenter Center was more about the immediately future than nearly everything else.
While Delaware’s 75-67 victory did for the moment halt wrapping up fourth place and the final bye for next month’s CAA tournament by the visiting Rams (16-10, 11-5), VCU with a two-game advantage is still likely to edge the Blue Hens in the standings considering coach Beth Cunningham’s group needs only one win and will be the favorite in both its last two games of the regular season.
The win also enabled Delaware (16-11, 9-7) to hold the fifth spot one game ahead of Drexel (16-11, 8-8) and Hofstra (16-11, 8-8), which also captured games Thursday night.
But most important, the Blue Hens finally departed with the frustration of the last two seasons of coming up short in the final minutes against any of the front four in the CAA standings.
A year ago, for example, VCU in Richmond broke Delaware’s heart with a three-pointer at the buzzer after the Blue Hens had already endured similar narrow losses.
As recent as Sunday, a busted play in the final minute here ruined any shot at upsetting James Madison, the defending CAA champion and current frontrunner.
“It’s huge for our team and a big confidence builder after coming off of two losses,” said sophomore star Elena Delle Donne. Who made shots early and scored 31 points. “Have we ever beaten a team in the top four?”
Well, it’s been a while, though it used to happen regularly.
Delle Donne’s performance showed she is getting closer to being herself after missing 11 straight games and a 12th one earlier suffering from symptoms of Lyme disease.
She is still experiencing lapses of fatigue and coach Tina Martin rested her in practice for the VCU game with an eye toward the four-straight games the Blue Hens will have to play to win the CAA tournament and get an NCAA automatic bid.
Beyond that, the more wins the better to at least land another trip to the WNIT since Delaware’s record precludes any shot at an at-large NCAA bid.
“I talked to (Tina Martin) on Tuesday and said, `Coach, I’m feeling horrible. I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
“And she was like, `Today, you’re not practicing, you are just going to shoot a little bit.’
“So it was huge tonight to do that because I was feeling exhausted. Even tonight, I wasn’t feeling that great but I was able to push through and my teammates were phenomenal.”
Delle Donne, who was 2-for-2 on three-point attempts and 9-for-17 from the field overall, showed she is getting her mid-range shots back to where they were early in the season.
“I’ve been working on my shot a lot because having however long off, my timing was off. Not having my legs wasn’t the problem, it was just my timing. I’ve been spending a lot more time in the gym on my shooting but not a lot to get tired.”
Jocelyn Bailey added 15 points to the Delaware attack, while defensively the Blue Hens outrebounded the Rams 36-34.
Courtney Hurt, one of several candidates for player of the year, had a double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds but Delaware forced her into a 4-for-18 shooting night from the field.
However, transfer Andrea Barbour, who came to VCU from junior college after being an all-Atlantic Coast Conference rookie at Virginia Tech, put down 28 points.
Conceivably, Delaware and VCU could meet in the CAA quarterfinals at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Washington, so the Blue Hens’ ability Thursday night to twice cut Rams rallies after holding double digit leads was important.
“Our kids know we can beat the top four teams, it’s actually a matter of doing it,” Martin said. “I just felt like tonight that when the lead got down to three or four, our kids put their foot down and said, `No, not this time.’
“I saw determination in this team. Almost a calmness,” Martin said. “I felt they did a really good job of (1) following the game plan, what we were trying to do defensively, we wanted to make sure we made it as difficult as possible for Courtney Hurt, because she’s such a good player in the high post.
“I felt the guards really pestered her. We tried to make sure she couldn’t get into the lane. She’s going to get her share because she’s been good all year, but I thought our guards did a really nice job keeping her out of the paint and as much as we could, keep her off the boards.
“I thought our zone did a really good job. We clogged the middle and we made every shot a contested shot. And I thought we did a nice job on their ball screens.”
Delaware shot 51 percent while VCU shot 37.3 percent.
The Blue Hens go to Old Dominion Sunday and then finished up Wednesday at home against Towson.
Nacickaite Collects a Grand in Drexel Win
Meanwhile, Drexel, which has been playing with a short roster in the wake of several knee injuries, recovered from its tough loss at home Sunday to VCU by registering a 61-53 win at Northeastern (8-19, 3-13) in Boston.
Kamile Nacickaite reached her 1,000th career point and finished with 15 against the Huskies. Jasmina Rosseel and Tyler Hale each scored 12 points and the Dragons overall shot 53.7 percent from the field.
Drexel travels to Towson Sunday and finishes Wednesday against Old Dominion at home in the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
Elsewhere in the CAA, James Madison (22-6, 15-1) stayed two games in front with two left by winning 93-45 at Georgia State, while Old Dominion (19-8, 13-3) and UNC Wilmington (21-6, 13-3) stayed tied for second with wins.
In the JMU victory – the 13th straight by the Dukes – Dawn Evans scored 26 points and dealt seven assists against the Panthers (10-17, 5-11), moving closer to the CAA all-time scoring record by former Drexel star Gabriela Marginean with 2,581 points. Evans, at 2,554, needs just 28 to break the mark set last year.
Old Dominion gained a narrow 70-65 win over William & Mary (3-23, 2-14) at home in Norfolk, Va., as Tia Lewis scored 17 points and had nine rebounds in the Ted Constant Center.
Jo Gilford scored, had a steal and blocked a shot on the Tribe in the last minute to keep them from gaining an upset.
UNC Wilmington had an easy 76-47 win at Towson (9-18, 3-13) as Kristen Hanzer scored 20 points.
Hofstra kept pace with Drexel by pushing George Mason (12-15, 6-10) two games behind the sixth place duo with a 77-69 win over the Patriots in Hempstead, N.Y.
West Chester’s Shante Evans, a graduate of Henderson High, had 19 points and a near-school record 23 rebounds.