The University of Delaware women’s basketball team got their star back on the court for only the second time this season against Maryland, but even with Elena Delle Donne on the floor, the Blue Hens couldn’t keep pace with the Terps.
Delle Donne’s been struggling with the affects of Lyme’s disease all season, but has been feeling better as of late and felt strong enough to take to the court for the just the second time this season on Thursday.
Despite having to shake off some rust in the first half, Delle Donne led all scorers with 19 points in the Hens loss in front of a sold out home crowd in Newark. (Official attendance of 5,089 people set the Bob Carpenter Center record for attendance at a women’s basketball game.)
“I was able to get in more of a rhythm [in the second half], and then I think once I got the rhythm that’s when I hit the wall because obviously I haven’t been practicing very long,” said Delle Donne.
The Hens trailed by seven at halftime and Maryland expanded their lead at the start of the second half, but the Hens battled back into the game. Delle Donne hit a three pointer to bring Delaware within three points of the Terps with about eight minutes left in the game, but that’s as close as the Hens would get, losing by a final score of 53-69.
“Obviously I would have liked to perform far better and do better for my team tonight, but like coach said, I was giving 100 percent effort and that’s all I can do,” Delle Donne said.
Delaware still has a lot of things to work on, according to coach Tina Martin. “We will be a better team in another month, month and a half, and hopefully we will be where I want us to be. What I saw tonight was typical of my team: a lot of heart. They came out, they competed, they got after it, unfortunately we came up short.”
The Hens have high expectations for this season, especially coming off last year’s trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. This year, UD plays hosts for the first two rounds of the tournament. Getting Delle Donne back to her former strength will help the Hens get back into March Madness, this time in front of the home crowd.
“It’s definitely an adjustment having her back,” said Martin. “For us to get where we want to go, which is obviously ultimately to the NCAA tournament, we’re going to have to continue to work as a group. But yeah, Elena gave us the effort that she’s capable of giving right now, and hopefully she will continue to get in shape, and she will continue to be into the offense.”
Even Maryland coach Brenda Frese acknowledged the impact Delle Donne has on the team when she’s healthy. “They’re a top 25 team no question with her on the floor,” Frese said. “You look at the points and the numbers that she was able to give, the presence, and how you have to alter your game plan with her on the floor, no question.”
Up next for Delaware is a contest at Monmouth on Sunday, followed by the Blue Sky Classic tournament in New Hampshire on Dec. 29 and 30.
Delle Donne says she hopes to be able to continue playing in those games. She also thought she’d be able to continue playing after her first game weeks ago, but she physically wasn’t up to the task. “I’m just going to play my way back into it and keep trying my best.”
The Hens tournament hopes could be depending on it.