By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, Del. _ Freshman Elena Delle Donne, the driving force behind Delaware's resurgence, hit a pothole Wednesday that caused her to miss Thursday's night key matchup with Northeastern in a Colonial Athletic Association game at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The nation's leading scorer, who a week ago set a national freshman record and a zillon other records when she scored 54 points in a loss to James Madison, was neither behind the wheel of her car nor powering through traffic to the basket when the mishap occurred.
But when coach Tina Martin learned of what happened, she later admitted to have added yet another few gray hairs from this season that has been uplifting with the additon of the 2008 high school national player of the year and frustrating with six CAA losses to the top dogs all involving overtime or regulation losses in the closing seconds.
(Details will be way below but basically, Delle Donne stepped into a pothole, again spraining the right ankle she hurt earlier in the season. She was going to her car when she heard someone call her name. As she turned to see who it was, she hit the pothole and fell.)
Delle Donne, a graduate of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy near here, wasn't available in the postgame but Martin provided details.
The best news of the night was that the non-Delle Donne team improved its record to 1.5-2, rallying from a first-half deficit to beat the Huskies 60-49 with a closing burst.
The two losses occurred when Delle Donne sprained her right ankle her third game of the season against Houston in Colorado State's tournament and then was sidelined when the Blue Hens played the host team in the title game and an ensuing game at rising Ivy power Columbia. The 0.5 part of the win total was at home against Towson several weeks ago when she did not play in the second half after getting hit in the right elbow. She had scored 18 points by the break.
It was mascot night but the best costume was provided by Tesia Harris who ended up disguised in Delle Donne's role as the leading scorer with 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Hens (19-9, 10-6 CAA).
Kashaia Cannon scored 17 points for the less notable Huskies (12-15, 7-9) of New England. In case you are wondering, the other group happens to be unbeaten again and nationally ranked No. 1 out of the Big East conference.
"We wanted to score at least 60 and hold them under 55 so we achieved both goals," said Martin. She would make a wonderful guest lecturer at the Women's Basketball Coaches Association convention next month in San Antonio during the Final Four on how to improvise on the fly.
Northeastern coach Daynia La-Force Mann, a former player at Georgetown in the mid-1990s, found herself thrust into a similar role shortly before game time.
Mann was chatting with yours truly when the Blue Hens took the court for a shoot-around. It was then that both became aware of Delle Donne's situation when she walked out in a sweatsuit with her right foot in a protective boot.
"Delle Donne's not playing?" Mann said. "I have to get a different game plan."
But not much changed according to Martin.
"They used a diamond-and-one defense against us the first time when Elena played and we expected them to have a diamond-and-one again, but they used it against Tesia," said Martin, who was pleased to see her squad prevail without its star attraction. "We literally had two hours at practice to change things around. We looked out of synch in the first half. The kids were much for patient in the second half."
Delaware's win kept the Blue Hens somewhat in the chase for the fourth seed that would mean a bye in next month's tournament. And it came on a night when the CAA powers that be -- including reigning champion Drexel -- keep squandering opportunities.
The Dragons fell 60-58 at Georgia State although Gabriella Marginean scored 34 points, including 6-for-6 on three-point attempts, to become the all-time women's career scorer in any of the the divisional classifications in the Philadelphia area.
A week ago Marginean took the Division I title by surprassing former Penn star Diana Caramanico. She now has 2,493 points, which tops the 2,490 scored by Tammy Greene at Division II Philadelphia University in the mid-1990s.
Virginia Commonwealth lost to host James Madison so there is now a three-way tie for second among Drexel, VCU, and JMU, two games behind Old Dominion with two left in the regular season. Delaware and Hofstra are a game behind in fifth place.
For Martin, forward progress is the name of the game although it is uncertain Delle Donne will return Sunday when the next stop on the Blue Hens tour is at Towson.
"We got win No. 18, now let's get No. 19," Martin said of a three-year high in the victory column.
While she addressed the profile situation, if Delaware does not win the CAA automatic berth to the NCAA, the Blue Hens undoutedly will get a bid and initial home game to either the expanded 64-team WNIT or new 16-team WBI.
Drexel should be in the same situation. The Blue Hens could end up hosting St. Joseph's, which needs to win the Atlantic 10 to get to the NCAAs.
The Hawks shot themselves in the foot, losing at Massachusetts Thursday night but it appears they may have the tie-breaker necessary for a bye with a win at home Sunday against Duquesne. But that is not official.
Martin's Take: Delle Donne Injury Details
OK, for those of you who are interested in just the Delle Donne aspect, if you've been sufficiently entertained with the competition aspects of the locals, we'll let Martin tell all how things began to roll on Wednesday.
"She was going from her apartment to her car," Martin said. "Someone called her name, she turned to look, and, `boom,' she stepped in a pothole and down she went.
"It was the same ankle she hurt at Colorado State. She just did it (Wednesday) 1 p.m. in the afternoon.
"They came to my office -- the trainer said, `Elena sprained her ankle and she's in the training room.
"We hadn't even practice. I said, `What?' How in the world did she sprain her ankle.'
"And they said, `You're not going to believe it. Just come.'
"So I go in there and there's Elena with her foot up in the air holding on to her leg and I'm like --
"And she said, `I stepped in a pothole.'
"I was speechless. I didn't even know what to say.
"Obviously, everybody (CAA) is trying to make a run down the stretch and I just couldn't believe it.
"She's a maybe for Sunday. We have to wait and see. She can put pressure on it. Obviously, she's in a boot and she can walk around. But it really hurts when she jumps. And so we don't want to put a risk on where she would come down on somebody, obviously, so until that pain subsides and she's not grimacing everytime she leaves her feet --
"Hopefully, by Sunday that's going to subside and she's going to be able to go and obviously we're never going to put her at risk so we're hoping she might be able to play. But it's a day-to-day thing. We'll just have to wait and see.
"It's just a silly thing to happen. What else can you say. At some point some of us have stepped in potholes but I certainly didn't expect that to happen. And I was shocked as anyone.
"It was two hours before practice. We just have to hope for the best."