Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

March 24, 2013

Blue Hens eliminate WVU women

NEWARK, Del. — It was a replay that West Virginia could have done without.

The Mountaineers played a solid first half against sixth-seeded Delaware in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, just as they did against Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament.

And then came the final 20 minutes.

Delaware star Elena Delle Donne scored 20 of her 33 points in the second half, and the Blue Hens eliminated West Virginia with a 66-53 victory.

Ayana Dunning had 15 points and 10 rebounds for 11th-seeded West Virginia (17-14), which closed the season with a four-game losing streak. The Mountaineers blew a 19-point halftime lead against Oklahoma, and they also wilted in the second half of this one after holding a 33-26 advantage.

In both games, the Mountaineers were outscored 40-20 after halftime.

“The similarities were we didn’t execute as well as we could have in both games,” Dunning said. “It is kind of frustrating.”

“It’s two halves,” coach Mike Carey said. “They went 2-3, a little bit bigger in the second half, and they hurt us on the boards. The first half, we didn’t put Delle Donne on the foul line. Second half, she had 13 foul shots.”

In the first half, Delle Donne scored half of Delaware’s 26 points, playing on her home floor before a sellout crowd. West Virginia used a 7-2 run to close a half that featured three ties and seven lead changes.

West Virginia was 7 for 22 from the floor after halftime, committed 11 turnovers compared to six in the first half and was outrebounded 21-12.

Both teams struggled immediately after the intermission. The Mountaineers missed their first six shots and the Blue Hens went 1 for 7, leaving West Virginia up 33-28 with 15 minutes remaining.

Delaware (31-3) returned from a timeout to score seven straight points to take its first lead since 20-19. Minutes later, four different Blue Hens scored in an 8-0 run that made it 51-42.

“We just didn’t get the stops we were getting in the first half,” Carey lamented.

It was 54-48 before Delle Donne worked her way inside to bank a short jumper off the glass for an eight-point cushion with 3:23 remaining.

Dunning would have preferred to end her college career on a better note, but she had no regrets about her run at West Virginia.

“While I do have this bitter taste in my mouth, I couldn’t have been happier playing at any other university,” she said.

The Mountaineers lose only two seniors, so the future could be bright for a program that has reached the NCAA tournament in six of the last seven years.

“I hate losing Ayana, but I think we can be really great next year,” junior guard Christal Caldwell said.

The Blue Hens bounced back in the second half to extend their school-record winning streak to 26 games. Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 senior, went 10 for 24 from the floor and 12 for 13 at the foul line and had seven rebounds.

“To win a game like this in front of our home crowd, which was electric, there’s no other way to describe it other than I’m just totally thrilled for my players, this program, for the state of Delaware,” coach Tina Martin said.

Ever since Delle Donne began playing at Delaware in 2009, interest in the program has soared. It reached its zenith on Sunday in what might have been the most important basketball game played in the nation’s first state.

“This was actually better than I could have even imagined,” Delle Donne said. “Our fans were absolutely crazy. The atmosphere was amazing.”

Delaware had never won an NCAA tournament game before last year. The Blue Hens have yet to reach the round of 16, a milestone they will seek to accomplish Tuesday night at home against either North Carolina or Albany.

After watching the Blue Hens struggle with West Virginia’s quickness inside and out during the first half, Martin started a taller lineup in the second half. She also shifted to a 2-3 zone and moved Delle Donne farther from the basket.

“I was able to get away from the players a little bit instead of banging with them inside,” Delle Donne said. “I was able to elevate and shoot over people.”

There were 4,532 fans in attendance, most of them clad in blue or yellow and cheering for Delaware. Not only were the parking lots jammed, but several people were pleading to purchase tickets from those waiting to enter the arena.

The Blue Hens did not disappoint.

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