Guru's Musings: Delle Donne's Night In Newark -- Not New Jersey

By Mel Greenberg

NEWARK, Del. - There have been times in the past when the Guru has been accused of setting up events in advance of their occurrence.

   Like the time in Richmond, Va., in the final seconds of the NCAA title game in 1994 when scant seconds remained and North Carolina had the ball under its own basket with a timeout having rallied to get a shot at overtaking Louisiana Tech, which seemed on the way to winning a third national title.

    "Do you think they're going to go on that side or the other side of the basket?" a colleague on press row asked anticipating the Tar Heels would try to send the game into overtime.

      "No," the Guru responded and continued with no serious intent in his answer.

      "They're going to whip it down there in the corner and go for a three and end this thing right now."

     No sooner had the sentence ended then UNC broke from the time out, took the inbounds pass and to the Guru's amazement, whipped a pass to Charlotte Smith, who then launched the historic trey that gave the Tar Heels their title.

    Flashback next to the spring of 1999 to a staff meeting of management types from sports, elsewhere in the newsroom, and your friendly Guru, to try to set the early planning agenda of the year-long coverage countdown leading to hosting the NCAA Women's Final Four at the Wachovia Center, then known as the First Union Center in South Philadelphia.

   At one point, a newsroom type asked if any teams with local hooks might make it.

   The Guru answered as thus, "Connecticut will probably there and the coach Geno Auriemma is from Norristown. Tennessee is also strong and they have one of the best players ever out of the Catholic League in Kristen "Ace" Clement. And this could be the year that Rutgers, with former Cheyney coach Vivian Stringer, and Penn State, with former Immaculata star and St. Joseph's coach Rene Portland, figure out how to get there.

  You all know what happened next with Guru on hand for the final piece of the qualifications in Oregon when Rutgers upset Georgia to complete the quad.

    Why mention all this?

    The Guru takes you to Thursday night here where Delaware had let what seemed to be a looming calm win over UNC Wilmington at the Bob Carpenter Center evolve in the second half to a cliff-hanger with the Seawhawks (6-9 1-3 Colonial Athletic Association) managing to pull into a 59-59 tie with the Blue Hens (11-4, 3-1 CAA) with 58 seconds remaining in the conference game.

          Delaware had the ball and at that moment redshirt freshman sensation Elena Delle Donne, the former national high school player of the year out of nearby Wilmington's Ursuline Academy, had 29 points and nine rebounds.

           Delle Donne had already been extolled in a string of email reports from previous outings having won two games herself in the final seconds as well as producing six double doubles in the 12 previous games she played -- she missed two because of a sprained ankle.

           So at that moment Thursday night, the Guru wryly turned Delaware assistant sports information director Anna Cooper, who is handling the Blue Hens women this season, and said, "You can't fool me. I know what you're up to. Someone is going to miss a shot so Elena can get an offensive rebound and then score so she can get another double double to add to your national player campaigns.

            No sooner said then virtually done. Delaware drove to its end of the court and Tesia Harris launched a trey with 43 seconds. The shot missed but Della Donne grabbed the rebound and put the ball up but the attempted layup bounced off the rims. However, Harris quickly grabbed the rebound and scored to go-ahead basket.

         The Seahawks couldn't score going the other way and then Harris was fouled and made both three throws and the Blue Hens survived, 63-59.

         Harris finished with 17 points.

          Meanwhile, reigning CAA champion Drexel had to rally from an early deficit up north before beating Hofstra, 51-41, in Hempstead, N.Y., as the Dragons' Gabriela Marginean finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

          "We were running our stuff, but we just weren't making shots in the first half," Drexel coach Denise Dillon said from the team bus on the way back home.

       The two wins Thursday night set up Sunday's showdown here at 2 p.m. between the two longtime local rivals in a series that has gone Drexel's way in recent years after a long domination by the Blue Hens.(9-6, 3-1).

            Time Out Musical Influence

        It's been chronicled in many sports rivalries over the years about certain opposing players having a way of getting into other players' heads.

          On Thursday night, however, the incessantly repetitious Zombie Nation by Kernkraft 400 the band played throughout timeouts in the second half must have had some effect on Delle Donne.

          Need proof?

          When the Wilmington News-Journal's Kevin Tresolini asked Delle Donne about what went wrong in the second half, her response:

           "We were zombies in the second half," she said. "I don't know if it's exhaustion from so many close games we played, but we really came out slow and offensively we really got away from what was working well in the second half."

          And as for many that asked during Delle Donne's hiatus from basketball to play volleyball here a year ago whether she still had the passion to win, this response should answer that when asked about her getting involved during the second half to yank the Blue Hens out of the doldroms.

          "I was angry, to tell you the truth," she said. "I knew I could break the press. So I was going to try to take and break the press and see what happened. If people were going to collapse on me, I was going to kick it to the shooters."

         Delle Donne's stat line showed 10-for-15 from the field, 5-for-8 on three-point attempts, 10 rebounds, an assist, two turnovers, three blocked shots and three steals in 38 minutes.

           The attendance was 2,364, adding to what had been a 1,500 increase over last season in the five previous games here.

             Accounting to place perhaps a $7 average -- high end prices are $9 but students are free, and other prices exist for other seats -- Delle Donne has now brought in close to $100,000 in gross revenues at Delaware's home games.

              Tina Speaks

        Meanwhile, Delaware coach Tina Martin sounds as frustrated as Dillon has been at Drexel over second-half fades in past games.

                    "I felt we played well in the first half," Martin said. "In the second half, something got into us, I felt we were sluggish on defensively rotating, that was frustrating, they got behind us a couple times in the zone, that was frustrating, and, offensively, we didn't move the ball offensively as well as we did in the first half.

                   "So whatever water we had, or power-ade, if they drank red, I'm going to change it to orange.

                   "Something's got to change. We hung tough but we need to get better. We need to slam the door. And we just haven't been doing that. You cannot give people opportunities. I'm glad we won, because as coach that's you're job, but we have a long way to go.

                     "I may be demanding but I know what wins games. As the season progresses, the sharpness needs to be there. My heart can't take this. You can't go up nine or 10 and let people back in. We have to learn to execute the entire second half."

                   As for Sunday's game with Drexel:

                  "We are playing the Dragons Sunday and is should be a whale of a game with Gabby andf (Jasmina) Rosseel, she's a heck of a shooter. Their ball movement is excellent. They have the nucleus of their team that played in the championship. They run the Villanova offense really, really well. Denise does a great job of coaching, we're going to have to play a lot better defense because of the way they share the ball. And Gabby has been there forever.

                  "Hey, until the CAA championship, they are the champions and they are coming to our court and we have to be ready. Last year (in the tournament), they beat Old Dominion and then they beat James Madison at James Madison and that's quite an accomplishment.