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Friday, April 23, 2021

Another Shot at Tourney Title for Blue Hens Basketball

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

The University of Delaware women’s basketball team opens its defense of the Colonial Athletic Association’s championship this weekend and the Blue Hens don’t have nearly as much pressure on them as their male counterparts did last week. But that will change next week and – they hope – beyond.

The men’s team needed to win the CAA tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and that is the goal of every Division I team whether it’s Duke or Duquesne, whether it’s Kansas or Canisius. The Blue Hens fell short, losing a game they should have won in the semifinals to eventual CAA champion James Madison. Now the men will settle – they hope – for some low-level tournament that is so insignificant it isn’t even televised.

The women, however, have had an NCAA berth wrapped up for some time and not only that, they’ll get to play on their home floor for the first round in front of sell-out crowds. They want to win the CAA tourney, of course, for pride and for NCAA seeding, but they don’t face the win-or-else scenario the men did.

But there will be plenty of pressure next week. Not only will the Blue Hens be playing at home, but they’re expected to go further than they did last season when they advanced to the second round for the first time in school history. If they get bumped in a first- or second-round game this time then this season will be a failure. Whether that’s fair or not isn’t the point – it’s the reality the Delaware women face.

That’s pressure for them and pleasure for us. It’s going to be fun following the Blue Hens in their tournament run and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the inevitable junk defenses they’ll face, defenses designed to stop one player, Elena Delle Donne.

And that’s why, as good as Delle Donne is, the Blue Hens’ fate will decided by the other players on the team, because sooner or later a very good opponent is going to throw a blanket over her and dare the rest of the Hens to beat them.

That was vividly demonstrated last season in the NCAA Tournament. The Hens opened against Arkansas-Little Rock and the Trojans’ coach, Joe Foley, smugly announced beforehand that his team would play this game like any other even though Delaware had the nation’s leading scorer on its roster. Foley’s philosophy was to stick with what had worked so well for his team. Well, Delle Donne made 14 of 27 shots and scored 39 points and the Blue Hens rolled to a 73-42 victory.

But the Blue Hens’ next opponent, Kansas State, didn’t make the same mistake. Coach Deb Patterson did everything but call out the Kansas National Guard in an effort to stop Delle Donne and it worked. The Blue Hens’ ace finished with 34 points, but it was a struggle and the rest of the Delaware team didn’t hold up its end and the Hens fell 70-64.

So, you can count on teams doing the same thing – stop Delle Donne and dare the rest of the Blue Hens to beat them. And that puts the pressure squarely on two players – Lauren Carra and Danielle Parker.

Carra is the Hens’ second-leading scorer and the only Blue Hens player other than Delle Donne who can create her own shot. If teams are smothering Delle Donne it makes sense that Carra should be open a lot and, if she is, she needs to score a lot.

Parker should also benefit from a Delle Donne-designed defense. She’s got the size (6-foot-2) to clean up underneath if the bigger players on (fill-in-the-blank) surround Delle Donne and Parker also has the best shooting percentage on the team (.476), so she needs to be effective around the basket, just like Carra has to be effective away from the basket.

If the other players can make teams pay for all the extra attention they pay to Delle Donne, then Delaware could go far in the NCAAs. Elena Delle Done has carried the Blue Hens ever since she first put on a Delaware jersey. Now it’s time for the Blue Hens to return the favor.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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