On one hand, it would be unfair to expect too much from the University of Delaware women’s basketball team tonight. After all, the Hens are welcoming a top-10 team to the Carpenter Center. Their best player, Elena Delle Donne, has practiced all week and is expected to play, but it will be just her second game of the season thanks to a prolonged flare up of Lyme’s Disease. How effective the All American can be remains very much in question. And even if UD can overcome Delle Donne’s rust, there is the fact that last year’s Delaware team—which went 31-2, won the first postseason game in program history and beat two Sweet 16 teams—could not topple Maryland. How will the 2012-13 Hens, who have already lost as many times as last season’s team did in 26 fewer games, be able to fare any better against the Terps this evening?
But before you completely discount Delaware’s chances, take the time to consider that other hand.
UD has beaten top-tier competition before, upsetting eleventh-ranked Penn State at the Carpenter Center just last November, so the Terps’ No. 9 ranking will not intimidate Tina Martin’s team. One of the big differences in that game was the performance of Delle Donne, and thanks to her expected return, the two-time CAA Player of the Year could be a difference-maker again tonight. No matter how much Lyme’s Disease has hampered her conditioning, she’s still the most talented player in the country and will change the way Maryland attacks Delaware. Her very presence gives Delaware a chance every time she and the Hens take the floor.
It also won’t hurt that she is surrounded by a supporting cast that has proved to the world it can beat elite competition even without their star’s presence. By erasing a 13-point deficit to beat Princeton last week, Delaware dispelled once and for all the myth that it is a one-woman show. Now UD must build on that confidence and continue to execute at that level while incorporating Delle Donne’s scoring prowess back into the fold.
The Hens will also have one last significant advantage over Maryland. Tonight’s game is sold out, and Delaware is running a “Mob the Bob, Wear Delaware Blue” campaign to help add to what promises to be one of the most raucous home atmospheres in the history of the Carpenter Center. If a slightly smaller but highly intense crowd can propel a tired group of Hens over the finish line against Princeton, imagine what an extra thousand people might lead to this evening.
In other words, Delaware can win this game. Maryland will not make it easy, but the Hens have the pieces in place to pull off the upset. In order for that to happen, Delaware must accomplish three critical things.
First, the Hens must not get destroyed on the glass. It would be unrealistic to think Delaware can out-rebound Maryland given the Terps’ overwhelming size advantage, but the Hens must not allow too many second-chance opportunities. At times, the Maryland offense almost seems to revolve around getting the ball on the rim and then going to get it. The Terps hit the offensive glass in waves and they do so for 40 unrelenting minutes. On the season, Maryland is plus-20 in rebounding margin. If Delaware gets out-boarded by double digits, it will be very difficult to see a path to victory for the Hens.
Similarly, UD must contain Maryland’s potent transition game. The Terps will get off the bus running tonight. They look to get into the open floor on every missed shot and will even look for secondary break opportunities after some made baskets. Delaware will have to spend the entire night sprinting back on defense, especially considering Maryland will be looking to test Delle Donne’s endurance as frequently as possible.
And finally, the Hens have to hope Delle Donne plays like her normal self. Delaware does not need a 40-point performance from the senior, but they need her to make shots, extend the defense and find her teammates when double-teamed. It is something Delle Donne has always done, but rust has a funny way of hindering even the best of players.
If Delaware can accomplish these three goals, it promises to be a fun night in Newark. The Hens have an opportunity to return to the national radar this evening. It’s a tall task, but far from impossible.