Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Guru's College Report: Delaware Defends Its First-Ever Ranking Beating Princeton

By Mel Greenberg

Having finally made it to the Broadway of women’s basketball earlier this week No. 24 Delaware relished in its role as a newly minted nationally ranked team in topping two-time Ivy champion Princeton 81-70 Thursday night in a nonconference battle of two marquee mid-major squads at the Tigers’ Jadwin Gym.

The nod from a national media panel of voters is Delaware’s first-ever appearance in the Associated Press women’s poll. And having dominated most of the night and surviving a Tigers rally at the finish ensured the unbeaten Blue Hens (5-0), who are favored to win the Colonial Athletic Association, are likely to maintain their residency with the nation’s elite the rest of the season.

No. 6 Maryland, a potential opponent in the Terrapins’ tournament in a few weeks, is Delaware’s toughest hurdle left on the schedule after recently having upset then-No. 11 Penn State at home in the Bob Carpenter Center.

But the mention of Maryland is not to discount potential threats in the CAA from such rivals as Hofstra, Drexel, James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth.

Musical director Tina Martin, also known as Delaware’s veteran coach, got another sensational soloist performance from junior all-America Elena Delle Donne while the surrounding orchestra struck the right notes to produce some memorable numbers for the fan base who made the trip up here from some 70 miles to the South.

Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 junior guard-forward, scored 32 points, above her 30.3 average, which leads NCAA Division I. She also shot 13-for-19 from the field, grabbed nine rebounds, dealt three assists and blocked five shots.

Truame Lucas, a transfer from Florida of the Southeastern Conference, scored 12 points, and Akeema Richards, a transfer from departing Big East member West Virginia, scored 10. Danielle Parker was also in double figures with 11 points.

Lauren Edwards, a senior from Los Angeles, scored 23 points for Princeton, and junior star Niveen Rasheed, likely the Ivy player of the year, scored 20 points for the Tigers, who also got 11 from Nicole Hung.

Senior center Devonna Allgood had eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, dealt four assists, and also had a pair of blocked shots and a pair of steals.

Delaware, showing little nervousness the way some first-ever ranked teams have played their next time out, opened with a 14-0 burst while Princeton missed its first eight shots.

“I thought our kids were really focused and played a great game of basketball in the first half,” Martin said. “We were definitely clicking on all cylinders and I thought we were very aggressive and Princeton had Princeton had a tough time getting into their pressure because we were making shots and we were sharing the ball extremely well.

“And defensively, we did a real nice job on Rasheed, because she’s an incredible basketball player. But we did a nice job of helping off of her, make other people shoot the basketball and rush shots.

“Overall it was the best half we played all year.”

The Blue Hens were also fan friendly to any of their followers who missed the opening array because of heavy rush hour traffic.
After Princeton twice came within six points following Delaware’s initial burst from the opening tap, the Blue Hens went on another 14-0 run and finished the half ahead 46-28 while shooting 61.8 percent from the field.

“During the first timeout I was thinking, `we’re coming in here focused, ready to play, we got to blow Princeton out. Obviously in the second half, we lost that focus,” Lucas said.

Late in the second half Princeton (6-1) was able to rally and make the finish look more respectable after suffering its first loss of the season.

“The second half, I thought we got a little tired toward the end,” Martin said. “We got sloppy with the ball. But all I can say is I’m going to ride home tonight with a big smile on my face because this is the first time in school history that we have been nationally ranked and they’re human, they know the deal, just like the coaches know the deal, coming in to play the 33rd ranked team in the country and beat them on their home floor is a big statement for this group.

“So now we build on this and we’ll clean up the end of game stuff. Princeton has a lot of competitors on that side of the ball. They have a lot of winners, my team does, too.”

The finish said as much about the Tigers’ ability to never quit while Delaware showed how much the Blue Hens have grown after losing twice to Princeton the last two seasons.

Delle Donne, in the early stages of suffering Lyme disease that caused her to miss 12 games, did not play in the loss to a year ago in Newark.

Neither did Lucas and Richards while Kayla Miller missed the entire season with back problems. Jocelyn Bailey, who scored seven points Thursday night, also missed the game because of an injury.

“The last two times we didn’t have a full team and half my rotation didn’t play the last time so they might have not felt the same sting as players who played against Princeton,” Martin noted.

Unlike former NBA 76ers star Alan Iverson, Delle Donne likes to talk about practice and told the larger-than-normal media group covering the game that she had not been happy with her shot Sunday in the win at St. Bonaventure.

“I wasn’t happy with my shot at all, so I spent extra time in the gym working on my shot,” Delle Donne said. “I was very confident coming into this game that it was going to be a good game for me after really working on my shot basically.

“My team laughs at the way I shoot. It’s not about how many shots I put up. But it was before practice and I worked on my arc and a lot of it was standing behind the backboard and shooting over the backboard, not even shooting to the basket, just to work on my arc pattern.

“So it’s different. I do some weird things. My teammates laugh at me a lot. But it helps a lot.”

Martin said she knows enough to leave Delle Donne alone when it comes to her prolific scoring.

“I don’t worry about Elena scoring, she does her thing,” Martin said. “She made some incredible shots tonight – I leave Elena’s shot alone. I don’t say much to her about it. She has her own scientology about it and someday she’ll write a book about it and make a lot of money.

“Bottom line is when you have someone like Elena, you get her as many touches as you can get her – whether people agree with that or don’t agree with that. Everything kind of defense is thrown to her.

“I try to get her the ball in spots where she can do something with the ball. And her teammates are available to her so she can dish off to her. But I don’t say to her, `Hey, Elena. You have to get a double double every night.’

“I don’t do that to any of my players. I want them to play. I want them to be aggressive. The only thing I say to her is `If you don’t shoot, I’m going to sit you down. She understands that very clearly. I’ve only had to say it to her a few times.

“The bottom line is if Elena feels it’s a good shot, I feel it’s a good shot – let it fly. She has the trust of her teammates, the teammates trust her right back – we have a good thing going right now. We really do. We have a few areas where we need to get better, which we will work on but this is a fun group to coach. They’ve all brought what they can do to the team right now and we just want to get better.”

Princeton was trying to beat a ranked team for the first time and has two more opportunities when DePaul visits next week and several days later when the Tigers visit No. 5 Stanford.

Ironically, Delaware had been glad to have teams such as Penn State and Maryland play them, and likewise Princeton felt the same about the Blue Hens being on the schedule.

“We knew they were a tough team to press,” Tigers coach Courtney Banghart said. “Because Elena is 6-5 and doesn’t turn it over. She has four turnovers in four games playing as many minutes as she does.

“We have a really experienced team and I have full faith in them,” Banghart talked about giving up the two 14-0 runs. “And the mistake they made the first time around, they wouldn’t make the second time around and they did and they kind of shared the mistakes.

“What I hope (her players) grow from is – big stage and we stay true to what we do. That’s hard. We don’t have as many big stages as some of the conferences do. We gave them a lot of big stages this season. I hope that come March we’re more prepared then when we were tonight.”

Delaware opens CAA play at home Sunday to meet William & Mary and then the next night will be back in the Bob Carpenter Center Monday to host Yale due to a schedule quirk.

Princeton Saturday afternoon travels to meet UMBC in a nonconference game outside Baltimore and then returns to the area Dec. 9 to play at Navy.

-- Mel


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