Delaware downs Drexel for CAA title
Delle Donne drops 27 points and helps Blue Hens to first crown
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. -- Delaware coach Tina Martin was wearing a shirt announcing her team's Colonial Athletic Association championship. Her hair was soaked from a drenching she took from her players during the lengthy celebration.
The most telling aspect of her appearance - the one that most reflected her joy in being part of the biggest win in the history of the program - was her broad smile.
Elena Delle Donne had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 7 Delaware used a strong second half to beat Drexel 59-43 on Sunday to claim its first CAA title.
Soon after helping cut down the nets, Martin exclaimed, "This team has been on a mission since day one, and today, finally, we completed what is stage two of our goals. We had the regular season championship, and then obviously the tournament championship. Now we want to try and win a game in the NCAA, something this program hasn't done.
"We're still on our mission, but this certainly feels really, really good.''
Delaware (30-1) will bring a 20-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. The Blue Hens led 20-16 at halftime before pulling away behind Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 junior who managed only eight points in the first half on 4-for-12 shooting.
Delle Donne, the nation's leading scorer, finished 10 for 21 from the field and made all six of her free throws. Lauren Carra added 14 points for the Blue Hens.
And when it was all over, the usually stoic Martin was grinning and laughing with the players, fans, boosters and members of the band.
"It's awesome to see that smile on her face,'' Delle Donne said. "The reason she's not [usually] smiling is she's always so focused and trying to prepare for our next game. To get her this championship really means everything to this team. It's awesome that we were the ones to do it. We're so excited for ourselves and Coach.''
During its season of unprecedented accomplishments, Delaware earned a spot in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time. The Blue Hens also set school records for consecutive wins, successive regular-season CAA victories (19 and counting), wins in a season and home attendance. In addition, Delle Donne became Delaware's career scoring leader (2,185 points) for both the men's and women's program.
Winning the CAA tournament title, however, is the Blue Hens' most notable feat to date. Three times previously the Blue Hens came up short in the championship game. This time, they went the distance.
It wasn't easy.
The first half resembled last month's game between the teams that Delaware won 40-39. But the Blue Hens got their transition game going after halftime and ended up cruising to their third win against the Dragons (18-13) this season.
"Defensively, we got some rebounds and got out and ran,'' Martin said. "Once we can run, we get in our comfort zone and our offense just kind of rolls after that.''
Kamile Nacickaite led Drexel with 16 points. The Dragons shot 30 percent, went 6 for 23 from 3-point range and were outrebounded 43-23.
"We just got beat by a great team,'' Drexel coach Denise Dillon said.
|DELAWARE VS. DREXEL|
A great team with a very special player.
"Elena's tremendous,'' Dillon said. "You can't take anything away from what she's capable of doing. She makes everyone around her great.''
After missing 21 of 30 shots from the field in the first half, Delaware made its first seven tries after halftime to expand a four-point lead to 32-21. Delle Donne hit a 14-footer and a 3-pointer to fuel the 12-5 run.
It was 36-27 before Carra connected from beyond the arc and Delle Donne made a layup for a 14-point lead. After Tyler Hale made two foul shots for Drexel, Delle Donne and Carra each made two at the line to make it 45-29 with 8:13 remaining.
At that point, the only remaining suspense was which net the Blue Hens would begin cutting down to celebrate their coveted first CAA title.
"This is just everything we've been working for,'' Delle Donne said.
Delle Donne hit the court more times than she connected from it during a rugged first half in which the teams combined for only 16 field goals. Delle Donne was often knocked off her feet vying for position underneath the Blue Hens' basket.
Although Drexel held Delle Donne without a shot in the opening 5 minutes, the Blue Hens got points from three players in bolting to an 8-2 lead. The Dragons then found their shooting touch and used a 9-2 run to move in front for the first time.
A 3-pointer by Drexel's Fiona Flanagan made it 14-12 with 10:19 left in the half, but the Dragons didn't score again until Nacickaite hit a jumper as the shot clock expired with 1:17 remaining. Despite the dry spell, Drexel kept it close with a defense that jammed the lane and paid close attention to Delle Donne.