Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dukes are king in the CAA

It was a wonderful storyline those Delaware Blue Hens had going. Three wins in three days, including one over second-seeded Old Dominion followed by another over third seed UNC Wilmington. Elena Delle Donne, whose season has had more ups and downs than a Busch Gardens 'coaster, energizing her team with the type of play befitting an All-American and showing a relentless passion that seemed destined to end with Delaware holding up its first CAA crown.

Ah, the Dukes. Spoilers, aren't they? Actually they have plenty of classic storylines of their own. We all know about the conference's greatest ambassador, Dawn Evans, and even though we know, we tip our hat at the grit she showed on Sunday. She didn't warm up. Taped hands. Bruised up. Fatigued. We wondered how much she had in the tank as she sat on the bench pregame. Then she hit her first three 3s. Three more would follow leading to 24 points to go with 8 assists. Any questions? CAA Tournament MVP. CAA season MVP, too.

As much as we love Evans, JMU defeated the Hens behind the type of team effort that would make any coach giddy. Courtney Hamner hadn't shot well this season. She was money in the semifinal every time her team needed a basket. She cashed in again on Sunday with five from beyond the arc. Lauren Jimenez, among the most underestimated players in the conference, pulled down 39 rebounds over VCU and Delaware and scored 23 points. Six blocks. All-tournament team.

Tarik Hislop didn't have a great shooting day in the title game. But she drained the shots that mattered. Free throws. 7-of-9 against the Hens. Against VCU, the sophomore drained all eight from the line.

You won't find Nikki Newman's biggest contribution under the JMU numbers in the final stats. But check Delle Donne's numbers. The 6-5 superstar didn't have an easy look, converting just 6 of her 20 field goals and one 3. Newman played 34 minutes of defense on her. She didn't shut EDD down, but she frustrated her -- something neither ODU nor Wilmington, with three all-league defensive selections, could muster.

Take a bow, Dukes. And breathe a little easier Kenny Brooks. You're going to the NCAA Tournament. You're CAA champs, and you did it on a neutral court, overcoming Evans' physical trials and Jimenez's bad knees. Overcoming a Delaware team that was on a mission.

But for JMU, it's mission accomplished. We salute you and we're rooting for you in the Big Dance.

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