She’s back. The best all-around player in women’s college basketball today and the person who has transformed the University of Delaware women’s basketball program from one of the CAA’s top teams into one of the country’s finest, is set to make her 2012-13 season debut tonight at the Carpenter Center against Providence. Elena Delle Donne’s return could not have come soon enough for a Hens team that has already dropped as many games this season (through only three contests) as it did all last year.
It’s not like Delaware turned into a disaster without its senior All-American. The Hens routed Sam Houston State in their season opener and then had opportunities in the final minutes to beat both Georgetown and Duquesne. But when you enter the campaign with a top-10 national ranking, close doesn’t quite cut it.
Now, thanks to Delle Donne’s return, Tina Martin’s team should be able to turn those near misses into victories.
At the same time, Blue Hen Nation should not expect Delle Donne to return to the lineup in midseason form. She has been severely limited by her recent health issues. The Lyme’s Disease flare up took away her ability to do basic things like cardiovascular work. In other words, her wind is unlikely to be there for the first few games.
Delaware will take even 50 percent of Delle Donne though, if that’s what is available.
The only things that separated the Hens from victory in their previous two games were untimely turnovers and the inability to hit a big shot down the stretch. Delle Donne is as clutch as they come, which instantly solves problem number two, and her length and athleticism make Delaware nearly impossible to press or to trap.
She will also help everyone around the team relax. Martin felt her players were pressing in their first three games. She was disappointed that her seniors did not handle certain critical situations better, and let (for lack of a better phrase) the moment overwhelm them a bit.
A big reason for that, however, was the fact that so many players were forced to try and do more than they were prepared for. Considering Delle Donne’s illness did not creep up until less than a week before the season started, the Hens never got much time in practice to figure out what playing without her would be like. The two-time CAA Player of the Year is obviously the focal point of the UD offense. Martin runs virtually all of her sets through her best player.
With Delle Donne absent, Lauren Carra had to become the Hens’ primary scorer, Trumae Lucas needed to become more of a scorer than a distributor at point guard and Danielle Parker had to provide Delaware with its low-post presence. All three of those women are good players, but none of them are well-suited to slide into those roles at the snap of a finger. On top of that, the Hens lost all of their front-line size when the 6’ 5” Delle Donne went down. UD was so desperate for frontcourt production they shifted 5’ 9” senior Jaquetta May to power forward, a position she said after the opener she had never played before in her life.
The Hens had to make all of these adjustments in five days and then had to play three games in less than a week. With that kind of schedule, there was little time for the coaching staff to fix the problems that were occurring.
Delle Donne’s return to the lineup makes the need to solve those issues less critical, but you can bet Martin and her assistants will still be spending plenty of time in practice preparing their team should the need to play without Elena arise again.
Meanwhile, the Delaware faithful will be crossing their fingers, hoping that need never materializes. They’ll also be spending an awful lot of time cheering on the greatest Hen of all time.