A strong statement was made at the Carpenter Center on Sunday. In front of a large and vociferous crowd, the University of Delaware women’s basketball program asserted once and for all that they are more than a one-woman show. Facing the second-best mid-major program in the country (behind only the Hens themselves) and playing without All-American Elena Delle Donne, Delaware came from behind to edge Princeton 59-58.
The Hens won despite dealing with a pesky case of Murphy’s Law in the opening half when seemingly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Delaware was shooting less than 20 percent from the field 15 minutes into the game. At that same point in the contest, the Tigers had connected on better than 60 percent of their shots. Delaware’s leading scorer, Lauren Carra, had to sit for more than 10 minutes with two fouls. Jaquetta May was right next to her on the bench in foul trouble as well.
The result was a 30-17 Princeton edge, and a silent Carpenter Center.
But Akeema Richards sparked a key run near the end of the half by knocking down three critical mid-range jump-shots that helped the Hens crawl back to within seven at the break.
In the locker room during intermission, Tina Martin and her coaching staff reminded their players what the game plan was coming into the game. Delaware was supposed to be attacking Princeton off the dribble instead of settling for contested perimeter jumpers like it had been doing in the opening half.
The message must have gotten through because May and Carra immediately went to work with the bounce in the second stanza. The duo carved Princeton up, scoring at will to help the Hens grab control of the game. With 7:19 left in the contest, Carra barreled her way to the rim, drawing two foul shots which allowed her to put Delaware in front, 52-48.
Just when it seemed like the Hens were on their way to a victory, Princeton responded. The Tigers ripped off a 10-1 run of their own to go up 58-53 with 3:21 left to play.
Neither team managed to score for the next 90 seconds as Delaware was out of sorts again on offense, and appeared to be wearing down. But as corny as it might sound, this gritty group of Hens does not seem to have the word quit in their vocabulary.
Again it was the dribble-drive that sparked Delaware. Carra drove hard to the basket and could not finish, but Kelsey Buchanan, who had five points and seven boards in 19 minutes off the bench, grabbed the rebound, drew a foul and knocked down the two subsequent free throws to make it a one-possession game again.
The Hens then dug in and got two more huge stops before Carra’s scooping-layup pulled them within a single point with 54 seconds left on the clock. The defense got it done yet again on the next possession, playing 30 solid seconds before the Tigers finally turned the ball over.
Delaware brought it to mid-court and called timeout with 16 seconds remaining. In the huddle, Martin called a high screen for May and then Carra, looking to create space for either to attack the tin. But Princeton crossed Delaware up by coming out of the timeout in a zone defense.
The Hens were out of timeouts, but fortunately the senior-laden team kept its poise. Point guard Kayla Miller kept her dribble alive until she found Carra on the left side of the floor. The senior took one hard bounce to her left before angling hard toward the rim. She then released a little 10-foot runner that floated off the backboard through the net to put Delaware back in front by a point with just two seconds left on the clock.
Miller stole the subsequent in-bounds pass and the celebration began.
Delaware held Princeton scoreless over the final 3:21. The Hens forced 18 Princeton turnovers and only gave it away 11 times themselves. Miller gets most of the credit for that. The fifth-year senior played 36 minutes, had five steals, three assists and only a single turnover. She ran the point for the entire second half because Trumae Lucas sprained her ankle late in the opening half. Despite dealing with constant ball-pressure Miller got the Hens into their offense early in the clock, and pushed the ball up the floor when the opportunity presented itself.
That allowed Carra and May to go to work. Despite the first-half foul issues, May finished the day with 15 points and five rebounds while Carra ended her afternoon with 15 points, six boards, and the first game-winning shot of her career. Richards also gets credit for keeping the pressure on Princeton, and for being the first Hen to attack the Tigers off the dribble. The junior had 13 points and seven rebounds of her own.
It was a true team effort. Something most of the country did not think Delaware was capable of. This is supposed to be Elena Delle Donne’s squad, and while it still is, anyone watching Sunday will attest that the Hens aren’t just one great player and a bunch of non-descript extras. This is a team, and a tough one at that.
Delaware gets 11 days off now to deal with finals and to hopefully get healthy. There is a decent chance that Delle Donne will be back in time for the Hens’ December 20 showdown with Maryland at the Carpenter Center.
But on Sunday the Delaware faithful left that building cheerfully asking; “Elena who?” It was that kind of a weird but joyous day.