Things have returned to normal for the University of Delaware women’s basketball team and that is both bad and good.
It’s bad because the Blue Hens are no longer one of the elite teams in the nation or led by one of the elite players in the nation. Elena Delle Donne is wowing the WNBA instead of the CAA and Delaware’s days as a nationally-ranked team are over, perhaps forever.
But it’s good, because normal for this team and this coach means a successful season. Tina Martin is in her 18th season as head coach and she consistently puts our teams that play well and play the right way. Delaware is 6-2 going into this weekend’s Lehigh Christmas Classic, where the Blue Hens will meet Youngstown State on Friday. Martin’s career record is 341-181, and she won most of those games before Delle Donne arrived on the scene five years ago.
Martin has also won conference championships and gone to NCAA tournaments without Delle Donne, and when she did have an All-American fall into her lap after Delle Donne left Connecticut, Martin got the most out of that unexpected gift. Delaware was undefeated in the conference the last two seasons and last year advanced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and finished the season ranked 15th in the nation. Delle Donne put Delaware on the map, albeit briefly, and no Blue Hens team has ever starred on the national stage like women’s basketball did last season.
But, as well all know, times change and now Delle Donne is gone and nobody expects the Hens to reach the lofty heights they enjoyed the last few years or draw the record crowds they did during the Elena Era. At the same time, they expect a good, solid team because that’s why Martin always puts out in the floor, and that’s what they have – with the emphasis on team.
Delaware has only one player averaging in double figures – Kelsey Buchanan, who is scoring 16.4 points per game. But they have four players averaging around nine points a game – Shanice Johnson (9.5 ppg), Courtni Green (9.1), Akeema Richards (8.9) and Erika Brown (8.8).
It’s the same with rebounds and assists. Buchanan is averaging 8.5 rebounds , Johnson is averaging 7.1 and Green is averaging 5.6. As for assists, Richards leads the way with a total of 23 on the season, but the other Hens share the ball pretty equitably — Buchanan has 13 assists, Brown has 12, Johnson has 11 and Green has nine.
That’s balance across the board and that will be the key to the Blue Hens’ season. This is a team that has won an amazing 42 consecutive CAA games, but it’s also a team that returns only one starter from last season, Richards, and lost a total of seven seniors. The current roster includes 11 freshmen and sophomores and just three juniors and seniors.
That’s why a team that hasn’t lost a conference game in more than two years was picked to finish fifth in the CAA this season, behind James Madison, Drexel, Northeastern and Towson.
“We have a lot of growing to do and we certainly have to catch up on experience,” Martin said. “This season is new and fresh and we’re going to take it with that approach. There are a lot of question marks right now for us, but at the same time, any new challenge makes for an exciting experience for both the players and coaches.
“The group that we have right now is excited and they want to prove that they can compete and play well,’’ Martin added. “They’re hungry to show the conference that we can still compete and try to win a third straight championship.”
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.