Sunday, February 24, 2013

JMU closing in on Delaware?

Add another chapter to what throughout the Elena Delle Donne Era has been by far the CAA's compelling rivalry.

Just this season alone we've seen the Blue Hens pull away late for a seven-point victory on Feb. 10 in Harrisonburg that had been their closest conference encounter. That is, until Sunday, when the Blue Hens survived 61-60 in a nail-biter that played out before a regional TV audience and the largest women's basketball crowd in Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center history (5,098). The final 30 seconds alone was a big-time thrill ride, featuring:

     - Tarik Hislop banking in a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to cut a five-point deficit to two;

     - Delle Donne, a 91-percent free throw shooter who had made her first 11 attempts, rimming out the 12 with 15 seconds left to keep it a one-possession game (61-58).

     - Hislop driving into the lane for a 2-point jumper - which missed - with four ticks left and the Dukes down three.

      - And finally, with the Blue Hens essentially needing only to get the ball inbounds and get fouled, JMU's Precious Hall stealing it from Lauren Carra and laying it in as time expired.

     In his postgame radio interview, JMU coach Kenny Brooks boldly asserted his Dukes had been the better basketball team. Now, the scoreboard doesn't lie. But coaches don't give the media quotes like that without their own agenda. We suspect Brooks was mostly sending a message to his players that instead of feeling deflated by Sunday's result, the Dukes should leave Newark with a renewed sense of confidence they can take the Blue Hens down should the teams lock up for Round 3.

The trick for the Dukes is to set up that Round 3. The Dukes need just one win in their remaining three games to clinch at least the third seed in the CAA Tournament, and the same is true for Drexel. In other words, all signs point to a 2 vs. 3 tournament semifinal featuring Drexel and JMU, with the winner earning a final-round shot at the top-seeded defending champion Blue Hens.

The Dukes certainly know better than to sleep on the Dragons, who have won three of the last four meetings - including a 2-point decision at JMU earlier this season - and have JMU coming to their place in the March 6 regular-season finale. If the Dukes can't solve their Drexel puzzle, none of this let's-get-our-Delaware-swagger stuff will matter.

But if the Dukes can find their way to another game with the Blue Hens, well, in the words of ex-boxing official Mills Lane - not to mention Marvin Gaye - "Let's get it on!"

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