(Guru's Note: Your Guru covered the Drexel-Delaware game for the print section and that story is elsewhere in the various regular sports locations on Philly.com)
By Mel Greenberg
If Delaware with freshman star Elle Donne was competing in horseshoes instead of women's basketball in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Blue Hens might be heading for a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, close is not worth anything in the hoops side of life other than the improvement Delaware (13-7, 5-4 CAA) has made in now being just two short of the overall win total of a season ago.
The Blue Hens dropped a second straight overtime game to reigning conference champion Drexel Sunday despite Delle Donne's 31 points and 11 rebounds.
All four of Delaware's losses in the CAA have been at the finish against conference heavyweights. In the CAA opener at home in Newark, the Blue Hens rallied and then died on a missed layup at the buzzer, 60-59.
Next on the list is the thrilling double overtime game at home in which the Dragons (14-6, 8-1 CAA) twice rallied from four points down in the overtimes and won in the final minute, 70-67.
Delaware was on the verge of beating Virginia Commonwealth, an NCAA at-large participant last season, in Richmond until a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left on the clock gave the Rams a 60-59 win.
On Sunday before the first-ever sellout crowd for the Drexel women (2,532), Marisa Crane hit a shot in overtime with three seconds left to give the Dragons a 60-58 win.
Drexel, locked in a three-way tie with VCU and Old Dominion for first, has been able to thrive in narrow outcomes while the Blue Hens have not.
The Dragons have the two wins over Delaware, a win against James Madison, an overtime win at Northeastern, and a win against Virginia Commonwealth in conference play.
Had Delaware been able to win those four CAA games the Blue Hens would be one of the "Wow" stories of the season.
The Blue Hens would be alone in first place in the CAA with a 17-3 overall record. They might even be at least 18-2 had Delle Donne not missed the Columbia game early in the season with an ankle injury that also had her absent in the loss to Colorado State the night after she got hurt in the tournament in the Rockies.
The other loss, which was to Princeton in her second career game, could be conceded, especially considering the Tigers might be one of the top under-the-radar stories.
One can even speculate with good reason that in a season where the non-UConn, non-Stanford, and, for the moment, non-Notre Dame and non-Nebraska world is loaded with vulnerable situations every night, the Blue Hens might even be holding a first-ever appearance in the Associated Press women's poll by now.
"It's good that we're close to these kind of teams, but we're not converting in the end and it's miserable to have these losses," said Delle Donne, who was the 2008 high school player of the year out of Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del.
Drexel managed to double team Delle Donne in the second half for a while as the Dragons jumped to a 14-point lead before going into another cold spell.
"I was settling for jump shots, which is really stupid," Delle Donne said. "I'm kicking myself in the butt right now. I should have taken it inside when my shot was off and I got a little cold.
"We made a tough comeback, but we need to start converting these losses or we're not going to win a championship."
Delle Donne said she was basically recovered from an injury on her right elbow Thursday night near the end of the first half at Delaware that sidelined her the rest of the way in the win over Towson after she had scored 18 points.
"It gets stiff here and there but I got hit in a nerve and my arm went dead," Delle Donne said.
She saluted Crane's ability to make the game-winner for Drexel.
"She just drove by us and made the correct read. She's a great point guard and always making those right reads."
Crane is a graduate of Emmaus High in suburban Philadelphia.
"Drexel has one of the toughest defenses I've seen in the CAA," Delle Donne said. "They're a fun team to play.
"It's miserable," Delle Donne said of the narrow setbacks. "It just shows we're not working hard enough in practice because we keep coming up short in games. We don't see this intensity at practice."
Meanwhile, for the moment, so much for the projections for Delaware after Delle Donne dropped into the lap of Blue Hens coach Tina Martin last May when Delle Donne opted to return to basketball after spending her true freshman season a year ago playing volleyball for the Blue Hens. That followed a decision to forego a scholarship from NCAA champion Connecticut to be closer to home.
Martin alluded to the environment in practice after citing an inability to make key defensive rebounds down the stretch and an overall total of 21 turnovers factoring into Sunday's loss.
"I don't know what it's going to take (to win close contests)," Martin said. "I've been harping on the team the last few days. Our intensity level in practice needs to go up as a whole team. To win games like this, to beat teams that are the tops in our league, the intensity level needs to be maintained to win games.
"In practice you have to battle every day. They'll get it eventually. Maybe you just need enough battle scars and eventually you get sick of losing games like this and you step up and get the big defensive rebound when you need it and don't give them second and third chances and take care of the ball when you need to," Martin added.
"They're a young group. I love this team. The sky is the limit for them. Maybe they just need some more battle scores. I really don't have an answer right now. It's tough to lose to the top team in the league in double overtime and overtime."
The game was televised regionally and, other than the loss, Martin thought the atomsophere was outstanding.
"Every single game has been like this, even when we dominated them," Martin said.
Drexel has won six straight after a long losing streak to the Blue Hens.
"The Delaware fans coming up here was great. Drexel did a lot of promotions for the game," Martin said. "To sell the CAA and put it on TV, you can't ask for a more competitive atmosphere, you can't ask for a more competitive game. The worst thing for us was being on the losing end. It was a great showcase. Great drama. Unfortunately we were on the losing end of that drama.
"Right now it's just going to be about making this team better and make them really for whomever is in front of us."