On the same court where she played as a middle-schooler, University of Delaware senior Elena Delle Donne scored the final points of last night’s game against the University of North Carolina to lead the Blue Hens to the Sweet 16 for the first time in the school’s history.
The deafening cheers from the sold-out crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark certainly didn’t hurt the momentum of the women’s Blue Hens basketball team.
After trailing the third-seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels for most of the first half, the sixth-seeded Blue Hens were able to secure a 78-69 win in a second-round game of the NCAA women’s basketball championship. The Blue Hens next play Kentucky in Bridgeport, Conn., at noon, Saturday.
Among the fans were Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Beau Biden, who congratulated the team in the locker room following the win.
“He gave everybody big hugs, he gave everybody personal greetings, whispered some words of encouragement to our team and just said how very proud he is of our team, how proud he is of this university and he said he didn’t stop hollering,” said head coach Tina Martin. “President Harker of the University of Delaware said that the vice president kept standing up and blocking everyone’s view so a few people wanted to say. ‘Mr. Vice President please sit down,’ but I don’t think that the vice president would have sat down. He’s been one of our biggest fans and we certainly are honored and humbled that he came to see us play tonight.”
Delle Donne put up 33 points, reaching 3,000 points for her career. She is only the ninth women’s player in NCAA history to reach that mark. It was the seventh time this season she scored 30 or more points in a game. The game was the final home game for the Wilmington native and Ursuline Academy standout.
Six other senior teammates also played their final game in Newark. One of them, guard Trumae Lucas, gave Delle Donne the support she needed, with 20 key points and steady ballhandling.
“It was a little sad,” Delle Donne said about this being her final home game. “It was emotional definitely saying goodbye to the fans and saying goodbye to the Bob Carpenter Center but to leave it this way is absolutely incredible.”
The nationally televised game on ESPN showed how packed the Carpenter Center was with fans for the final home game, and color commentator Rebecca Lobo repeatedly remarked about how the fired-up fans were helping their comebacking team stick with it on the court.
UD fan Tenney Wheatley said he’s been coming to the women’s basketball games for the past three years and couldn’t miss the chance to see Elena work her “magic” one last time.
“We saw Elena at Ursuline, but I never really got into coming down for the basketball here until it got to the point where she’s just so good, it like watching magic,” said Wheatley.
Delle Donne’s dad, Ernie, said the performance that the team put on during the final home game showed how much they wanted the win.
“The grit they showed when they we’re down by 11 right before the half, to come back, and this is a tough team to come back against, and they just are relentless, they fight, they scrap,” he said. “Just to get back to the NCAA tournament was a feat in itself but they’ve done it and they did it again. God bless. I couldn’t be happier for these girls. I am so proud of them.”
Martin said it’s a night she’ll never forget: “It was just a wonderful moment. I’ll cherish this forever as I’m sure our players will as well.”
Following the win, Martin grabbed the announcer’s mic and invited the cheering crowd to the sweet 16.
“Everyone, let’s go to Bridgeport, baby,” she said.
— NewsWorks contributor Rob Tornoe drew a cartoon to celebrate the super play of Elena Delle Donne: