Guru College Report: Delle Donne Rescues Delaware With Game-Winner
By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA – Seconds from clocking out on a bad day at the office junior sensation Elena Delle Donne continued to be good for the business of making history with No. 10 Delaware Sunday afternoon when she hit a leaner from the right side to give the Blue Hens a 40-39 win over Drexel before a sellout crowd of 2,532 at the Dragons’ Daskalais Athletic Center.
The triumph alongside second place James Madison’s upset loss to Northeastern gave Delaware (25-1, 15-0 CAA) a four-game lead and the No. 1 seed in next month’s Colonial Athletic Association tournament at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., near Washington.
The winning shot connected with two seconds remaining in regulation, enough time for Drexel (13-12, 9-6) to add to a continuing list of stunning upsets across the nation in recent weeks but Hollie Mershon’s attempted long trey fell short as time expired.
“Bottom line is you want to put the ball in your best player’s hands,” Delaware coach TinaMartin explained the strategy during the time out with 17 seconds left after the Blue Hens gained possession when Drexel’s Kamile Nacickaite missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity and the Dragons ahead 39-38.
“Me being the smart one, yeah, right, I said we have to get the ball in Elena’s hands, let her make the decision, I think everybody in this gym knew the ball was going to try to go to Elena,” Martin said.
“Then she gets to make the decision from there. We wanted to give her space, we wanted to give her the opportunity to make the decision – whether she was going to take the shot or whether she was going to dish off to somebody else depending where the double team came from.
“The best place to do that is the middle of the floor. We tried to make sure our point guard didn’t get a lot of resistance coming up the floor – Danielle Parker took care of that and Danielle also set a very good screen for Elena,” Martin explained.
“We’ve run this before. And from there Elena obviously made the decision coming off the screen which way she wanted to go and everybody else was spread – so if a double team did come, Elena could make the decision to kick it or she could make the decision to take the shot.
“She split the double team, obviously, and then had a good look at the basket. I knew once she split the double team she had a good look. And that’s all you want as a coach. If the ball falls, then it’s your day. And if the ball doesn’t fall that happens sometimes, too.
“So the bottom line was put the ball in her hands, let her make the decision – if she shoots it or kicks to somebody else who had a good open look and obviously she split the double team and had a good look herself and she took the shot.”
Delle Donne had uncharacteristically missed a second foul shot attempt that would have tied the game at 39-39 with 25 seconds left but Delaware got a break seconds later when Nacickaite missed the front end of the one-and-one bonus opportunity that could have resulted in a three-point lead before possession was regained by the Blue Hens.
All year long Delle Donne, the nation’s leading scorer with a 28.8 average, and Delaware have been producing numbers on the uptake in the Blue Hens’ landmark season to date.
She has scored 40 or more points four times this season, mostly recently 42 in Delaware’s win at Hofstra Thursday and overall this season one more time than the entire total of three 40-plus point performances in the history of Connecticut’s storied women’s program.
Last month she became the all-time women’s scorer at Delaware and on Thursday she crossed the 2,000-point career plateau in her 75th game, several ahead of the number former Missouri State star Jackie Stiles was at when she got to two grand on the way to an NCAA career-record 3,393 points.
The Blue Hens meanwhile have debuted in the Association Press weekly women’s poll and last Monday they hit the Top 10 for the first time, rising to No. 10.
They arrived here with a 13-game win streak and three overall wins short of the 26 they collected in 2006-07.
So after beating Drexel last month before a first-ever sellout crowd at home at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, it seemed more of the same might continue.
Unlike previous games when Delle Donne needed a ton of points to reach some of the aforementioned milestones which she easily surpassed each time, she needed a mere 10 prior to Sunday’s tipoff to top the combo men’s-women’s Delaware career record of 2,030 points held by forward and current Blue Hens men’s assistant Mike Pegues, who set the mark from 1997-2000.
But by the time the day ended, Delaware’s magical experience – minus the lone loss to Maryland in the title game of the Terrapins’ tournament in December – was alive despite all kinds of numerical expressions of futility.
The Blue Hens’ winning total of 40 points was the lowest ever in the history of the program.
Delle Donne, who shared team and game honors with Parker scoring 12 each, had the worst day ever as a collegian discounting the scoreless performance at La Salle early last season when she left the game after six minutes complaining of fatigue.
“Interesting game to set a record for scoring, right?” Delle Donne said. “But I’m just thrilled for our team because as we’ve seen there’s a lot of upsets in women’s basketball.”
She and her teammates had been worried about this game and watching what was happening elsewhere certainly wasn’t helpful, especially on Saturday night when a shot at the buzzer carried unranked St. John’s to a one-point win over No. 3 Connecticut in Storrs to end the Huskies’ NCAA-record home win streak mark at 99.
It also was UConn’s first loss to an unranked team after 261 victories dating back to 1993.
“It shows you anybody can win on any given day and if you don’t show up or show up and think you’re going to win it.
“I’ve had some pretty bad games, but that was one of the worst. I’ll be back in the gym tonight, I promise you that,” Delle Donne said.
“Even on a night like this where I couldn’t make many shots, every time I shoot it, I tell myself it’s going in, especially that last one. I was very confident taking the shot and confident it was going in.
“This is huge and a gut check, a lot of teams would have folded. I was glad we had enough backbone to stand up and get the win.”
Drexel’s Dillon noted, “It wasn’t her greatest shooting night, but she knew the ball was going to be in her hands and she made the one they needed.
“She’s going to take a shot, you just have to contest the ball as much as possible. I thought we did a poor job of holding the trap and she split it pretty easily and got that shot off.”
The lone Drexel player in double figures was Tyler Hale, who had 10 points, though Mershon’s eight late in the game enabled the Dragons to complete a comeback from a 20-11 halftime deficit and go ahead.
“She made a tough shot with two people on her, but I don’t know,” Mershon said of Delle Donne’s heroics.
“Defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job. We held Elena to 12 points – I don’t think you could do much better than that.”
Delle Donne was 3-for-18 before hitting her game-winner doing what perceived money players achieve with the game on the line.
“After the game, I said to Coach Martin, `Well, I guess I had to make one tonight,’” Delle Donne said with a smile. “And it was that one.
“You know when I couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, my teammates picked me up, we played some solid defense tonight. Nothing was really going my way, nothing was really going our way on offense, but we were able to pull this game out and good teams do that. This was definitely a gut check of the season so far and I was pleased we got the `W.’”
In some ways the Delaware win was reminiscent of Connecticut’s rally in 1995 at home against Virginia in the NCAA regional final that sent the Huskies on to the Final Four where they completed a perfect run to win their first national title by beating Tennessee the second time the same season.
Win or lose in the Drexel game, Delaware’s road still looks golden though continuing the run with only one loss would certainly be worth more attention as March Madness looms on the horizon.
Drexel is always a tough out for Delaware, especially here where two years ago, the Dragons’ previous sellout watched the Dragons win at the finish.
Despite the loss, Drexel remains tied for fourth and if the CAA tourney were to begin right now, the Dragons would have the No. 4 seed and first-round bye.
Though it is unlikely Drexel could get an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament if it doesn’t win the CAA and automatic bid, there’s still a good chance an invite would come from the WNIT, where Drexel has played the last two seasons.
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dragons matched with Villanova, the alma mater of Drexel coach Denise Dillon.
Following the loss, she discussed the view and strategy from the Drexel side during the final frantic minutes.
“Defensively, we did everything we could do. Offensively, we struggled,” Dillon said. “At halftime, I didn’t think it was an incredible number and felt we had a chance to come back and sure enough we did but we didn’t capitalize.
“It’s amazing how it played out,” Dillon spoke of the final possessions. “If you were going to draw it up, you wouldn’t draw it up any other way.
“I was surprised to see Elena miss this second (foul shot). And then when we got the rebound – I told the team, `On the make we’re calling a timeout. On a miss, timeout as well because I thought they would double team the rebounder.
“But they actually were just as surprised so we burned a timeout a little early. And then on the out of bounds play, we wanted the ball to go to Hollie so she could get to the line.
“But (Kamile) held the ball. However, you can’t overthink it. I was just as happy to see Kamile go to the line. She made some big foul shots in the Old Dominion game (Thursday night) so you feel pretty confident when she stepped to the line – but it wasn’t her night.”
As for defending Delle Donne, “She’s taking a lot more shots inside the paint, inside the three, so with our zone it enables you always to have two people around here. When she catches the ball on the ball screen inside the zone, you’re able to show with somebody else.
“Continue to keep it packed in – extend a little out on her and on (Lauren) Carra as well so with other players – you’re really forcing them to be part of the offense where in the man-to-man they can set screens and get some people open,” Dillon said.
“I do feel we executed the plan on the defensive end but again, you have to take advantage. It’s hard to play against a player like Elena Delle Donne, but you have to embrace it. You have to say here’s our chance to put Drexel on the map, but if you’re not going to take advantage of it, where are you going to be?”
Delaware next hosts George Mason on Thursday and Drexel hosts William & Mary the same night.
Temple’s Peddy Ties Steals Record in Rout of Rhode Island
Though playing the worst team in the Atlantic 10 did nothing to strengthen Temple’s RPI in terms of building a resume for the NCAA tournament committee, at this point keeping a win streak alive for the Owls is all that matters.
So on Sunday Temple did would good teams do when they are heavily favored – the Owls crushed the Rhode Island in Kingston, 84-41, tying a team record with 27 steals of which senior Shey Peddy tied an individual mark with 10 of the thefts.
Peddy also scored a game-high 22 points as the Owls (18-8, 11-1 Atlantic 10) won their 11th straight and forced the Rams (1-26, 0-12) into 30 turnovers while committing a season-low five themselves.
The existing records, which were matched Sunday, were set in 1998 against Xavier in terms of team steals and in 1985 by Stacey Dean against Penn State to set the individual mark.
Peddy’s thefts were the fifth best individual performance in the NCAA this season.
Kristen McCarthy had 16 points at the site of one of the four NCAA Regional finals next month while Tyonna Williams came off the bench to score 10 points.
Temple, which clinched a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament next month, will host St. Joseph’s at home Wednesday carrying a 12-game win streak against the Hawks and 18 of 19.
St. Joseph’s hasn’t beaten the Owls since 2006 but are looking for a second chance this season in a game that also counts in the Big Five giving the Hawks the opportunity to finish second behind Villanova.
St. Joseph’s, which will host the A-10 tourney at Hagan Arena, also still has a chance to finish fourth and earn a first-round bye in the conference.
The Hawks finish up Sunday hosting George Washington.
Temple will clinch second place with a win Wednesday and if the Owls continue to win at La Salle Saturday in the regular season finale they would get second in the Big Five.
No. 12 Penn State hosts No. 9 Ohio State Monday night with a chance to win a share of the Big Ten title and also clinch the No. 1 seed in next month’s tournament in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse.
No. 21 Rutgers hosts Seton Hall Tuesday night in a neighbor battle in central New Jersey as the Big East season enters its final week.
On Tuesday, on the women’s side former La Salle star Kelly Greenberg, who later coached Penn to two Ivy titles and has Boston U. in first place in the America East, along with former Villanova star Jen Beisel and former St. Joseph’s star Melissa Coursey will be inducted into the Big Five at the annual luncheon at The Palestra.
That is it for the moment.
The Guru will be back either later in the day or before the next sunrise.