Delaware, Delle Donne play on after upset of UNC

Tina Martin is no historian. That didn’t stop the Delaware coach

from weighing in on the significance of a victory that thrust the

Blue Hens into the Sweet 16 for the first time.

”This is without question the greatest victory in Delaware

sports history,” Martin declared after the No. 6 Blue Hens pulled

out a 78-69 victory over No. 3 North Carolina on Tuesday night

before a packed house that included Vice President Joe Biden.

Elena Delle Donne scored 33 points in her final home game, and

now the Blue Hens are headed to Connecticut to face Kentucky. If

Delaware pulls off another upset, it could face UConn for the right

to play in the Final Four.

Delle Donne initially accepted a scholarship to Connecticut

before quickly leaving with a bad case of homesickness. She

enrolled in Delaware, enjoyed a great career, and now she’s headed

back to the state where it all started.

”I enjoy the irony that I’m playing in the Sweet 16,” Delle

Donne said with a sheepish grin. ”Obviously, I’ll be in

Connecticut. That’s great. It’s a beautiful state and I’m excited

to play there.”

Delle Donne surpassed the 3,000-point mark in a game she was

absolutely intent on winning.

”I don’t think I’ve wanted anything more than this win, and

that’s saying a lot,” she said.

After the final buzzer, Delle Donne had mixed emotions as she

and her teammates gathered in the middle of the court and waved to

the 4,653 screaming fans.

”It was a little sad, it was emotional, saying goodbye,” she

said. ”But to leave this way is absolutely incredible. I even said

to the girls before the game, `We deserve to win our last game on

this court. That’s how everybody played.”

Biden was on hand to watch it happen, and afterward he visited

the Delaware locker room to congratulate Martin and the

players.

”He talked about the fact that he told President Obama to

pencil us in (his bracket),” Martin said. ”He gave everybody big

hugs, gave everybody personal greetings, whispered some words of

encouragement to our team and just said how very proud he is of our

team.”

Biden, it seems, couldn’t stay in his seat as the game reached

its exciting conclusion.

”The president of the University of Delaware said that the vice

president kept standing up and blocking everybody’s view,” Martin

said. ”A few people wanted to say, `Mr. Vice President, please sit

down,’ but I don’t think the vice president would have sat down.

He’s been one of our biggest fans. We certainly are honored and

humbled he came to see us tonight.”

Waltiea Rolle scored 23 points for the Tar Heels, but the

6-foot-6 senior was in foul trouble for much of the second half and

finally picked up her fifth with 4:08 left.

North Carolina point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who scored a

career-high 30 points against Albany in the tournament opener,

played the final 11:55 with four fouls and finished with four

points on 1-for-13 shooting.

The Tar Heels were called for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the

Blue Hens, a discrepancy that did not escape coach Sylvia

Hatchell’s notice.

”I wish Delaware good luck when they get on a neutral court,”

she said.

When asked to comment on having her two stars in foul trouble

and the 24 whistles against the Tar Heels, Hatchell said, ”That

hasn’t been a problem all year until now. With Pratt and Waltiea

both out, that was the difference in the game. But I told the girls

in the locker room, `This is a great lesson. Life isn’t always

fair.”’

Delle Donne missed 18 of 28 field goal tries, but the 6-5 senior

went 11 for 13 at the line and now has 3,006 points during a

sensational career in her home state.

Trumae Lucas scored 20 for the Blue Hens and Danielle Parker

contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Delaware trailed 48-39 when Rolle picked up her third foul with

16:39 remaining. The Tar Heels slowed down their offense to kill

time while their center was on the bench, and she returned 2

minutes later, but was whistled for her fourth foul with 12:47

left.

To make matters worse, Ruffin-Pratt got her fourth foul less

than a minute later.

With its two leading scorers on the bench, North Carolina came

apart. Delle Donne made a basket, Parker scored on a drive and

Lucas sank two straight layups to put the Blue Hens up 52-51, their

first lead since 30-29.

Xylina McDaniel then scored on a drive for the Tar Heels, their

first basket in nearly six minutes, but Delle Donne reached the

3,000 mark with a follow of her own miss to put Delaware back in

front.

It was 63-60 when Rolle fouled out, and Lucas subsequently made

two foul shots for a 65-60 advantage.

Told of Hatchell’s insinuation about the officiating, Martin

said, ”I don’t see it the same way coach Hatchell does. We will

agree to disagree on this one.”