Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delaware, Delle Donne return to ODU

Elena Delle Donne

The last time Delaware visited Old Dominion's Constant Center, on Feb. 28, 2011, the Lady Monarchs put on arguably their best performance of that season, harrassing Blue Hens star Elena Delle Donne into a 7-for-19 shooting performance and sprinting off with a 70-61 victory.

No one knew it at the time, but that wound up being the final victory in Wendy Larry's coaching career.

Of course, a regime change was hardly on the radar that day. The Lady Monarchs guards - seniors Jasmine Parker, Kquanise Byrd and Shadasia Green - dominated Delaware's then-youthful backcourt. Meanwhile, a fourth senior, Russia Voronina, hounded Delle Donne all over the floor and, with help from her teammates, never allowed Delaware's sensational sophomore to establish rhythm. It was fitting that these players led the way as the game also doubled as ODU's Senior Day.

"You hope they walk away with a great memory because they really did dominate this team," Larry said after ODU improved to 20-8 overall and 14-3 in the CAA. "There was a time in this game where we played as well as we have."

And then...disaster. Three days later, the Lady Monarchs lost by 20 at Drexel in their regular-season finale. The next time out, Delle Donne went for 31 and 10 as the Blue Hens rolled to a 72-55 win in the CAA Tournament quarterfinals. Finally, on March 16, ODU's season ended with a 67-65 loss to Loyola-Maryland in front of 450 people at the Constant Center in the first round of the WNIT.

We all know what happened after that (sort of).

An entirely different set of storylines will be in play when the Blue Hens (10-3, 1-0 CAA) make their return to Norfolk Sunday at 2 p.m. It's a final chance for ODU fans to get an up-close look at the great Delle Donne, one of the most skilled performers in the history of the women's game. Fans can also get their picture taken with instant national celebrity Charles the Monarch, the dog groomed to look like a lion who is about 14 and a half minutes into his unlikely 15 minutes of fame.

Most importantly, it's a chance for ODU (11-3, 2-0) to make a national statement against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, something that's particularly important this year since the Conference USA-bound Lady Monarchs are not eligible for the CAA Tournament. Frankly, we have serious doubts there's enough meat in ODU's schedule for even two victories over Delaware - the teams meet again at Delaware on Feb. 14 - to add up to an NCAA at-large bid. Still, a team that can even play competitively with the Blue Hens is a good bet to wind up in someone's postseason tournament.

For all the talk about Delle Donne, the key Sunday may be ODU's ability to score. The Lady Monarchs have proven they can turn over just about anyone (23.6 per game), and if they can score frequently in transition, this one could get interesting. But if it's a halfcourt game, well, the Blue Hens began the week ranked seventh in Division I in scoring defense, and on Thursday they held George Mason to just 27 points on 17 percent shooting.

Also on Sunday:

Hofstra (6-7, 2-0 CAA) at George Mason (5-8, 0-2 CAA), 2 p.m.
The Patriots have lost six of their last seven, but the Pride isn't anywhere near the defensive juggernaut Delaware is so we expect Mason to eclipse the 27 points it managed against the Blue Hens Thursday in today's first half. That said, Hofstra comes in on a five-game winning streak while the Pats have dropped six of their last seven.
Maryland (12-3, 3-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (7-8, 1-3 ACC), 2 p.m.
A year ago, the Hokies stunned the Terrapins in College Park behind a 31-point barrage from Monet Tellier. We suspect Brenda Frese has brought this up once or twice in the lead-up to this one. Tech has lost three straight and have scored between 45 and 48 points in each contest.
N.C. State (8-8, 0-4 ACC) at Virginia (10-4, 2-2 ACC), 2 p.m.
Perfect opportunity for the Cavaliers to consolidate Thursday's impressive, wire-to-wire victory at Georgia Tech.
Northeastern (9-4, 2-0 CAA) at James Madison (7-7, 1-1 CAA) , 2 p.m.
The underrated Huskies average nearly 70 points and just over 8 3-pointers per game. They're also owners of a 61-50 victory over JMU in the teams' lone meeting last year in Boston.

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