Hens' season comes to an end
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 17:03
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — For Elena Delle Donne and her “Dream Team,” the run through the NCAA Tournament came to an abrupt end Tuesday night at Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Arena. Two days after picking up Delaware’s first-ever win at the tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks bounced the Hens with a 70-64 loss.
“The thing we’re most disappointed about is just it being over and especially saying bye to our seniors,” said a teary-eyed Delle Donne after the game. “I’m just sorry for the seniors and to my teammates that it ended, because we had a lot of fun.”
Delle Donne, the nation’s leading scorer, a college-level Olympian, former top recruit coming out of high school and Naismith Player of the Year candidate, hoisted the team onto her back this season. She did the same in Tuesday’s loss with a game-high 34 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots, while playing every minute.
It just wasn’t quite enough for the third-seeded Hens to knock off 11th-seeded Kansas.
Unlike Sunday’s comfortable win against Arkansas-Little Rock, the Hens came out stronger Tuesday in the first half than they did after the break. Delle Donne sent her squad into the locker room with a fist-pump and a six-point lead when she drained a 3-pointer from well outside the arc in the final seconds of the first half.
The Hens looked confident strutting into the locker room that their second-ever NCAA tournament win would closely follow the first. Then, Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich took over.
“We definitely felt great going into the half,” Delle Donne said. “Unfortunately, that first four-minute segment we came out and they scored a quick six points. And, from there, it just kind of kept going downhill.”
Goodrich brought the Jayhawks back into the game with the first score out of intermission. She then assisted on senior forward Aishah Sutherland’s layup to pull within two. The teams traded baskets back and forth, but less than five minutes into the second half, Kansas took the lead for good on a three by Natalie Knight.
After that, the Hens couldn’t turn things around on the offensive or defensive end. Delle Donne was hounded through the second half, and the rest of the team struggled against the aggressive Kansas defense.
“When they did double Elena, they’re quick, and they were able to recover and get out to our shooters,” head coach Tina Martin said of their offensive-execution woes. “When you’re playing for a spot in the Sweet 16, you’ve got to be able to find open people.”
Goodrich finished with 27 points and six assists. The Delaware defense, as Martin said, simply could not stop her from getting into the lane.
“If you allow someone like her, who’s, you know, leading the country in assists, to get into the paint, it’s like she’s going up to a buffet with her favorite foods,” she said.
Delaware scored 10 fewer points in the second half than the first, due, in no small part, to its defense struggling to contain Goodrich.
“There’s no doubt that we got sped up and we were throwing the ball away and rushing things, but the six-point loss is due to our defense,” Martin added. “What we didn’t do on the defensive end, it’s very uncharacteristic of us.”
Despite scoring 34 points, Delle Donne struggled along with her teammates on offense in the second half. She ended the game with six turnovers and sank just one of five three-point attempts.
But Delle Donne, along with the majority of the team, will return next year.
The Hens have four seniors coming off the roster, but none are starters, and Martin said they’ll have five new freshmen coming in ready to contribute next year.
“We can’t have these lapses that we did tonight,” junior forward Danielle Parker said. “We just have to buckle down and pride ourselves in our defense next year.”
The team members enjoyed the ride through a near-perfect regular season, an undefeated conference record, a CAA championship and the school’s first NCAA win. The upset loss to Kansas was a disappointment, but Martin hopes to build on this year’s success.
“I already started thinking about next year,” she said with a smile. “I told them, number one that I love them, number two that I’m proud of them, and number three that, I thanked the seniors obviously, but with this group, we will be back.”