Guru Report: Delle Donne's 40 Fuels Delaware Upset Of No. 11 Penn State
NEWARK, Del. – There have been those occasions in the modern history of women’s collegiate basketball when a defining moment arrives that enables a program to burst through a threshold to a new level of acceptance and national identity.
The first time Connecticut beat Tennessee in January 1995 enabled the Huskies to jump from a Top 10 team to one that could go on to challenge the Lady Vols in terms of overall supremacy.
Louisiana Tech’s visit to existing Top 10 power UCLA and upsetting the Bruins in early January 1979 propelled the Techsters into the high rent district of the weekly Associated Press women’s poll where they resided into the Top 5 and no lower than the Top 10 until Dec. 24, 1990.
The team that knocked them out until several years later was Notre Dame in the St. Joseph’s tournament in Philadelphia at Irish coach Muffet McGraw’s alma mater.
Several days later Notre Dame made its AP debut and changed from its previous consideration as a developing power to one eventually regarded as a threat to win a national title.
Dawn Staley’s enrollment at Virginia took the Cavaliers from an 11-20 ranked team to one that climbed into the Top 10 and made three straight trips to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.
On Thursday night such a game-changing moment struck the University of Delaware (2-0) at the Blue Hens’ Bob Carpenter Center courtesy of a thundering 40-point performance from junior sensation Elena Delle Donne that led to an 80-71 upset of No. 11 Penn State (2-1).
She also had 12 rebounds, blocked four shots and grabbed three steals.
Her total was the third highest behind her 54 at James Madison in 2010 and 41 at Yale a year ago. The 40 points set a record for the arena and the win is against the highest-ever ranked opponent of Delaware.
“That’s one of the most fantastic performances I’ve ever seen,” said Penn State coach Coquese Washington, a former Notre Dame associate head coach who also played in the WNBA. “We just couldn’t guard her.
“She shot right over the top of us. We tried to double her. We played man, played zone, I mean she is an incredible offensive player. She put on an all-American type performance tonight.”
Coincidentally, the win came on the eve of veteran Blue Hens coach Tina Martin and her staff’s move to new digs in the recently-built expansion of the complex that houses their home arena.
Considering that several ranked teams in the lower part of the poll may be vacating on the next vote Sunday night, the Blue Hens are poised to move uptown where the world “national” becomes affixed to the home address.
“People are doubters of Delaware,” Delle Donne said. “There are some people who doubt me but that’s not something I’m going to worry about.
“Hopefully people are going to start jumping on the Delaware bandwagon. We’re a fun team to watch. I think we’re going to be a great team this year. We still have a ton to work on. But we proved ourselves tonight.
“We didn’t back down and that’s something I’m very, very proud of,” she added, saying Delaware should now be on the national map. “We played a great game of basketball. A solid game for 40 minutes. We executed to pull this one out. I think that’s something nationally that’s going to be recognized.
“(Penn State’s) defense is phenomenal and every shot I took was contested. But it was falling.”
This was more than just a flash-in-the-pan upset. This was redemption on Delle Donne’s side after her briefly abandoning the sport that brought her acclaim dating back to her early high school years drawing national attention competing with the Fencor AAU team out of suburban Philadelphia.
And it was redemption on Delaware’s side, especially Martin, who endured Delle Donne’s absences the last two seasons due to a series of nagging injuries and last season’s bout with lyme disease that cost her the NCAA scoring title.
On Thursday night the promise of what could be, the dream of what could be, with Delle Donne returning to form and the Blue Hens adding significant support among some newcomers, became reality in what could be considered a prizefight of a matchup.
On one side were the Lady Lions, themselves recently restored to their own national identity that had vanished until Washington arrived in the spring of 2007 to rebuild the program.
A month ago Penn State was made the preseason favorite in the Big Ten and senior Alex Bentley was named the preseason conference player of the year.
“Anytime you can get a win outside your conference, especially against a BCS school, it’s great for your program,” Washington said of the national perception of Delaware. “They’re going to win a lot of games this year. When you have someone like Elena Delle Donne who can take over a game like that, they can be special.”
The Lady Lions’ visit was also a homecoming affair for sophomore scoring sensation Maggie Lucas, who smashed three-point shooting records as a freshman and is a former Germantown Academy star and resides in nearby Narberth, a suburb of Philadelphia to the north.
Delaware was poised to make its statement. Delle Donne had had a magnificent summer helping to lead the USA squad of the best collegiate talent to a gold medal.
Furthermore, point guard Kayla Miller, who missed last season with back problems, was healed and newcomers who had played at Florida and West Virginia arrived to offer depth.
Thus the moment of opportunity was at hand for Delaware and it is a statement in itself when an NCAA tournament committee member was in the house to make an early on site evaluation of both teams.
Delaware roared to a 15-3 lead but Penn State rallied to draw even and eventually be ahead 35-32 at the half.
The Lady Lions seemed on the way to a knockout when they held a 51-43 advantage with 12 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game.
As good as Delle Donne was – she had 15 at the half – Bently, who finished with 20 points, had Penn State maintaining the upper hand.
But then the Blue Hens and Delle Donne, connecting on contested shots, went to work with a rally.
Furthermore, she was getting Penn State’s post players into foul trouble, including Talia East, a graduate of Philadelphia’s Friends Central High.
East finished with 11 rebounds bur fouled out as did Ariel Edwards, who had eight points and eight rebounds.
Delle Donne’s jumper tied it at 51-51 with 9:15 left and it became up for grabs until the Blue Hens went ahead on Jocelyn Bailey’s layup with 6:25 left.
Now the crowd of 3,352 in the 5,000-seat arena stirred sensing a historical moment at hand for Delaware.
“The crowd got them energized. That’s the beauty of playing at home,” Washington said.
The Blue Hens then began extending the advantage the rest of the way and when it ended, students, primarily members of
the football team, in a previously unheard of scene here, stormed the court engulfing the Blue Hens in celebration.
“That was by far the best win in my entire life,” Delle Donne said. “I don’t know about my teammates but I’m pretty sure that was the best win in their lives, too. To have them (football players) charge the court like that – that’s something you see on ESPN. It was inredible.”
“This is something we’re going to remember for a lifetime. We had players in the locker room crying. We were screaming Delaware. Coach Martin was dancing. This is just something that gives you chills when you think about it.
“I’m just so proud of my teammates. The work we put in the offseason. The work coach Martin and all of our coaches put in.
This is something we definitely deserved and I’m just so proud of them,” Delle Donne said.
“(Penn State’s) a phenomenal team. They got Maggie Lucas (4-17 for 12 points), you can’t leave her open. A three is like a layup for her. Our bigs did a tremendous job fighting back to get the win. Everybody did what they had to do.”
Zhaque Gray had 15 points as the other Lady Lion scoring in double figures.
Penn State next visits South Carolina, coached by Dawn Staley, on Sunday, while Delaware is off until visiting Villanova next Tuesday night.
Trumae Lucas, who had seen many key nights playing for Florida in the rugged Southeastern Conference, had 15 points and four assists.
“Right now, it feels great. I just want to enjoy the moment. Our goal this year is just to win a CAA championship. I loved playing at Florida – I loved the school, loved playing for the coaches. But somehow this game just felt bigger than any other game I’ve played before. So it definitely felt good.
“We were definitely the underdog, but as the year goes on that shock (over winning) will go away. Gotta love Elena. I love having her as my teammate. She definitely carried us. But myself and others stepped up and played their roles. (Lauren) Carra later on in the second half played great defense on Bentley.”
Martin, now in her 16th season, called it the best nonconference win in the school’s history.
“It’s been such a ride for us,” she said. “We’ve gone through a lot the last couple of years and to have this victory at home in front of our crowd. Our fans were unbelievable.
“We just wanted to show some emotion from the coaching staff, not that I never show emotion. I just felt these kids earned it tonight. We had some periods where we got into a little lull – we didn’t score. I felt our defense sustained us.
“Penn State’s an unbelievably talented team. I can’t say enough about our kids on the defensive end. We showed some grit. Huge rebounds. Hustle plays. And on the offensive end people were setting screens all over the place doing a good job.
“(Penn State) is in my backyard (Lock Haven). I grew up being a Penn State fan. I only lived 45 minutes. I have a lot of respect for their program.
“But there are a lot of big games ahead and we have to learn from our mistakes and get better. There’s a very good Villanova team waiting for us on Tuesday night.”
Martin said she thinks people have been aware of Delaware’s growth in terms of having some scheduling difficulty.
“Nobody seems to want to play us here. The bottom line is that we were finally able to get a really good team here and I thank Penn State for that. But when we’re playing home and playing well, we’re tough to beat here.
“I would hope we would get more respect but we still have some more work to do. It was fun to see the other athletes come out and support our team. I was just hoping no one was going to tackle anybody. I stayed out of that melee. I’m too out for that.”
Cheryl Reeve, the coach of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx, whose home in southern New Jersey is nearby, stopped by for “due diligence.”
Delle Donne has another year of eligibility but is technically a senior by enrollment. Thus she can decide to make herself available for the draft but does not have to make a commitment until around the time of the Final Four.
Minnesota owns the Washington Mystics’ pick that became the third overall choice off the lottery. So the game was an opportunity for Reeve to check out both Delle Donne and Bentley.
“She reminds me of (Seattle Storm superstar) Lauren Jackson, when she was young before she began posting up,” Reeve said at the half.