Elena Delle Donne got most of the points during the game and most of the media attention after it and, as usual, she deserved it. But this season and this tournament have become about much more than one player.
Delle Donne scored 33 points on Tuesday night to lead the University of Delaware women’s basketball team past North Carolina 78-69 and into the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. The television broadcasters gushed repeatedly about her talent and temperament and everyone knows the former Ursuline Academy star is the main reason Delaware is still playing basketball in late March.
But what tends to get overlooked is how hard Delle Donne works for her points and how many shots she takes to get them. Delle Donne took 28 of them on Tuesday night, which was almost half of Delaware’s team total of 59, and she made 10 shots while missing 18, a shooting percentage of just .357, which is not good.
In fact, the only person at the Bob who missed more than Delle Donne was North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who whined after the game about all the fouls that were called on her players. It’s a shame that somebody with Hatchell’s experience and stature in the sport would diminish Delaware’s achievement by suggesting the referees were influenced and/or intimidated by the loud home crowd. The Tar Heels’ foul problems were a big reason they lost, of course, but Hatchell should have told her players to stop bumping and hacking Delle Donne during the game instead of crying about it afterward.
Anyhow, Delle Donne had a good game, but not a great one and the Blue Hens’ season would be over now if not for a couple of role players who played their best when it meant the most.
And it wasn’t just Tuesday night’s game. In Delaware’s first tournament victory, 66-53 over West Virginia on Sunday, unheralded Kelsey Buchanan came off the bench to score 10 points and grab five rebounds and that had as much to do with the Hens winning the game as Delle Donne’s 33 points.
Then, against North Carolina, it was the one-two punch of Trumae Lucas and Danielle Parker that made the difference. In fact, even though Delle Donne was selected as the star of the game by the ESPN announcers, that honor should have gone to Lucas, who heated up in the second half just as Delle Donne’s shooting touch turned cold. Lucas scored 16 of her career-high 20 points in the second half and that’s why Delaware was able to rally from an eight-point halftime deficit and stun the Tar Heels.
So, two Delaware players scored career highs in the biggest games of their lives. Without their contributions, everyone would be talking about how well Delle Donne played while they got ready to watch West Virginia and North Carolina advance to the next round.
And that kind of balance will be crucial when sixth-seeded Delaware plays second-seeded Kentucky on Saturday night in the regional semifinals in Bridgeport, Conn. The Wildcats are more talented and deeper and play in the powerful Southeastern Conference, and the Blue Hens won’t beat them unless they once again get big games from their lesser lights.
Of course, they also need Delle Donne to score 30-plus points again. But Kentucky – just like West Virginia and North Carolina – will focus its defense on Delaware’s star. The Wildcats will grab her and hold her and bump her and do everything they can to at least limit her. And that’s when those other players must come though.
Actually, we’re looking for somebody else to have a big impact. There’s one Delaware player who has been very quiet so far in the NCAA Tournament and it’s her turn to step up and be counted. Lauren Carra was Delaware’s second-best player throughout the regular season, but she scored just six points against West Virginia and only four points against North Carolina. She’s due.
If Delaware pulls off another stunning upset the focus will be, as it always is, on Elena Delle Donne. But, as good as she is, she can’t beat Kentucky by herself. Once again, one or two of those other players must shine if the best season in Delaware history is to become even better.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org