Tar Heel women eliminated at Delaware
Delaware had just bounced North Carolina from the NCAA tournament in front of a boisterous sellout crowd that included Vice President Joe Biden, and it was now time for Elena Della Donne and her teammates to show their appreciation.
They gathered in the center of the court and waved to the standing throng, many of whom were chanting, "Let's Go Hens!"
In another section of the small arena, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell seethed.
Delle Donne scored 33 points in her final home game, and Delaware rallied past the foul-plagued Tar Heels 78-69 on Tuesday night to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in school history.
After the final buzzer, Delle Donne had mixed emotions as she waved to the 4,653 cheering fans.
"It was a little sad, it was emotional, saying goodbye," she said. "But to leave this way is absolutely incredible. I even said to the girls before the game, 'We deserve to win our last game on this court.' That's how everybody played."
The sixth-seeded Blue Hens (32-3) trailed 50-42 with 15:31 left before coming back to extend their school-record winning streak to 27 games and eliminate No. 3 seed North Carolina (29-7). Delaware will next travel to Connecticut to face second-seeded Kentucky.
Biden was part of the second straight packed house at Delaware, his home state. Most of the fans wore royal blue, yellow, or a combination of both. The majority were standing during the final 5 minutes, when it became apparent the Blue Hens and Delle Donne would be playing at least once more this season.
Biden, it seems, was standing before then.
"The president of the University of Delaware said that the vice president kept standing up and blocking everybody's view," Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said. "A few people wanted to say, 'Mr. Vice President, please sit down,' but I don't think the vice president would have sat down. He's been one of our biggest fans. We certainly are honored and humbled he came to see us tonight."
Waltiea Rolle scored 23 points for the Tar Heels, but the 6-foot-6 senior was in foul trouble for much of the second half and finally picked up her fifth with 4:08 left.
North Carolina point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who scored a career-high 30 points against Albany in the tournament opener, played the final 11:55 with four fouls and finished with four points on 1-for-13 shooting.
The Tar Heels were called for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the Blue Hens, and a discrepancy did not escape Hatchell's notice.
"I wish Delaware good luck when they get on a neutral court," she said.
When asked to comment on having her two stars in foul trouble and the 24 whistles against the Tar Heels, Hatchell said, "That hasn't been a problem all year until now. With Pratt and Waltiea both out, that was the difference in the game. But I told the girls in the locker room, 'This is a great lesson. Life isn't always fair.'"
Delle Donne missed 18 of 28 field goal tries, but the 6-5 senior went 11 for 13 at the line and now has 3,006 points during a sensational career in her home state.
"I don't think I've wanted anything more than this win, and that's saying a lot," she said.
Trumae Lucas scored 20 for the Blue Hens and Danielle Parker contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.
"This is without question the greatest victory in Delaware sports history," Martin declared.
Delaware trailed 48-39 when Rolle picked up her third foul with 16:39 remaining. The Tar Heels slowed down their offense to kill time while their center was on the bench, and she returned 2 minutes later but was whistled for her fourth foul with 12:47 left.
To make matters worse, Ruffin-Pratt got her fourth foul less than a minute later.
With its two leading scorers on the bench, North Carolina came apart. Delle Donne made a basket, Parker scored on a drive and Lucas sank two straight layups to put the Blue Hens up 52-51, their first lead since 30-29.
Xylina McDaniel then scored on a drive for the Tar Heels, their first basket in nearly six minutes, but Delle Donne reached the 3,000 mark with a follow of her own miss to put Delaware back in front.
It was 63-60 when Rolle fouled out, and Lucas subsequently made two foul shots for a 65-60 advantage.
Told of Hatchell's insinuation about the officiating, Martin said, "I don't see it the same way Coach Hatchell does. We will agree to disagree on this one."
Rolle had 15 points and six blocked shots in the first half to offset a 19-point effort by Delle Donne and help the Tar Heels take a 43-35 lead at the break.