Hens pick up historic win
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 03:03
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Delaware women’s basketball team began the NCAA Tournament just the way the Hens had hoped. After a tightly contested first half, Elena Delle Donne and company caught fire to blow out the University of Arkansas at Little Rock 73-42 Sunday night.
Delle Donne’s 39 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks led the Hens, but the All-American forward insisted, as she has all year long, that the win was a team effort.
“Our team definitely did a great job introducing ourselves to the country, not just myself,” Delle Donne said after the game.
The junior forward also led the team in court time with 30 minutes. She didn’t see the bench until midway through the second half, but once the Hens had a comfortable lead, Delle Donne sat for good, leaving her supporting cast to finish off the 14-seed Trojans.
The win came in front of a largely maroon UALR crowd, but fans in the Delaware blue and gold filled up the section directly behind the Hens’ bench. Head coach Tina Martin spoke after the game about how much the school’s first ever NCAA win means to not just the players donning school colors, but to those fans who made the trip, and those back east who couldn’t make their way to Arkansas.
“We’ve been on a mission all year to try and make history, and this year we were able to do that,” Martin said. “To get this first win means a lot to our players, to our community and to our university.”
Martin gave 13 different Hens floor time by the end of the night. While junior forward Lauren Carra was the only other Delaware player with a double-digit scoring effort, Martin recognized several players as contributing to the win.
With 7:49 left in the first half and the Hens holding a seven-point lead, Akeema Richards missed a jumper. Senior center Sarah Acker fell to the floor trying to grab an offensive rebound, but the ball slipped through to her on the ground. She caught it and slung a pass to Carra, who put away a three-pointer.
“I’ve never seen anyone get a rebound while sitting down,” Martin said. “But knowing Sarah, it does not surprise me if you know her personality.”
Despite missing that jumper and going 0-4 from the field, Richards found ways to contribute on the other end of the court. Martin praised the team’s defense as the most impressive part of the win.
“When we were able to get some stops, that actually got them fired up,” she said.
On defense after Carra’s three, Richards seemed to be a step behind a slashing guard, but stretched out her 5-7 frame to make sure a UALR shot went out of bounds.
The Delaware defense held the Trojans to 30.8 percent shooting. It also held UALR’s leading scorer, guard Taylor Gault, to seven points on 3-19 shooting. Carra, who was tasked with guarding the freshman during most of the game, said their game plan to force Gault right, away from what she tends to do, rattled her into the poor shooting performance.
“She’s a great jump shooter, she’s going to be a great player,” Carra said.
As dominant as the Hens were in the second half, the first half was not nearly as relaxed. Heading into the school’s first NCAA tournament game, the players had some nerves, until Martin loosened them up at the hotel. The coach led a parade of ducks, a daily routine at the hotel the team is staying at, through the lobby into the fountain inside.
“Coach leading the pack of ducks and almost getting run over by the ducks was an awesome thing for us to watch and get our minds off the game a little bit,” Delle Donne said.
After making history with the school’s win, the Hens play again Tuesday against the 11-seed Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks upset sixth-seeded Nebraska 57-49 on the same court as the Delaware-UALR game.
Although Kansas lost its best player, Carolyn Davis, due to a torn ACL earlier in the season, Martin said their forwards and point guard will make Tuesday’s matchup difficult. Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich slashed through Nebraska’s defense without fail Sunday to 20 points and freshman forward Chelsea Gardner put up a career-high 15 points along with 16 rebounds.
Delaware guard Trumae Lucas, who dished out a team-high five assists and snagged two steals Sunday, said the Hens will be ready for their Big-12 opponent Tuesday.
“We’ve seen high-level teams throughout our whole season—we’ve just got to focus on rebounding,” Lucas said. “Elena’s going to do what she does best.”