When you size up the University of Delaware women's basketball team on paper, the Hens are certainly an impressive bunch. They have the most talented player in the country in Elena Delle Donne, a pair of all-league-level performers in Danielle Parker and Lauren Carra and then a supporting cast that each fulfills perfectly their critical roles. But what makes this group special is not necessarily its talent alone. What sets them apart is their seemingly endless supply of intestinal fortitude and their mega-sized hearts.
Those tickers are the single biggest reason the Hens can call themselves champions for the second straight season. Delaware let a 17-point second-half lead slip away to Drexel in Sunday's CAA championship. Trailing by a point with just over a minute to play, the large contingent of UD fans that made the journey to the Show Place Arena grew silent. Equal parts shocked and nervous, no one was quite sure what would happen next.
They should have been though. These Hens always seem to find a way. And for the 42nd straight time in CAA action and the 25th consecutive occasion overall, Delaware did exactly that.
The Hens took the lead for good when Trumae Lucas drove to the basket and drew a foul with 44.4 seconds remaining. The senior was looking to give the ball to Elena Delle Donne on the play, but when Drexel smothered her away from the ball, Lucas went to plan B. She willed herself into the lane and beat Dragons forward Abby Reddick to the block. As a result, when the two collided, the officials called a block on Reddick and Lucas calmly stepped to the line and drilled a pair of game-changing free throws.
But the Hens weren't out of the woods yet. Delaware dug in defensively and forced a travel by Drexel's Hollie Mershon. Then Delle Donne knocked down two more pressure-packed foul shots to give UD a 59-56 edge.
It was at that point that, according to Lucas, Delle Donne told her to use one of the two fouls the Hens had to give. That killed some time and forced Drexel to inbound near center court with 6.5 seconds remaining.
The Dragons got the ball into the hands of Mershon, but it didn't stay there for long. Lucas had one more monumental play up her sleeve. Aware that she had one more foul to give and therefore could afford to be more aggressive, Lucas took a swipe at the ball from behind. She got just enough of it to poke it toward the corner—where Delle Donne retrieved it—and watch the final seconds trickle away.
It was the capper of a huge weekend for Lucas, who was named to the All-Tournament team. The senior had 12 points in the title game, including a couple of big momentum-swinging triples in the opening half. Not bad for a person who lost her spot in the starting lineup four months ago. It is the perfect example of how this Delaware team does not let anything bother them. Lucas accepted her reserve role and has thrived in it, particularly over the final two weeks of the regular season and during the weekend in Upper Marlboro.
Another Hen showing incredible will was Carra, who has played the last five weeks with a thumb the size of a grapefruit. The severe bruise has affected her shot, but it has not kept the senior from making an impact on the game. She pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds on Sunday and also added six assists.
Delle Donne overcame an entire team trying to push her around. The 6-foot-5 center was bloodied, scratched and bruised by the time her battle with Drexel’s front line had ended. The Dragons spent the entire day grabbing her away from the ball and bumping her when she had possession of it. Still, she managed a game-high 28 points.
Parker is playing on a partially torn ACL, Kayla Miller has battled back from a debilitating back injury, Jaquetta May has had to play power forward at 5-feet-9, heck, even the coaching staff has been forced to power through adversity. Delaware head coach Tina Martin’s mother had a mild heart attack on Saturday morning (she is resting in the hospital and feeling much better Martin reported on Sunday) and associate head coach Janine Radice’s mom has been battling cancer all season long. Still the Hens-—to a woman—show up every single day and put everything they have into the goal of winning games.
And that’s exactly what they have done. They are deserved champions.
Now it’s on to the NCAAs.