NEWARK, Del. -- The first NCAA tournament game in the state of Delaware had a perfect ending for the hometown Blue Hens and their boisterous fans.
Elena Delle Donne scored 33 points and led a second-half surge that carried Delaware past West Virginia 66-53 on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.Playing on their home floor before a sellout crowd, the sixth-seeded Blue Hens trailed 33-26 at halftime before bouncing back to extend their school-record winning streak to 26 games.There were 4,532 fans in attendance, most of them clad in blue or yellow and cheering for Delaware. Not only were the parking lots jammed, but several people were pleading to purchase tickets from those waiting to enter the arena.The Blue Hens (31-3) did not disappoint."To win a game like this in front of our home crowd, which was electric, there's no other way to describe it other than I'm just totally thrilled for my players, this program, for the state of Delaware," coach Tina Martin said.Ever since Delle Donne began playing at Delaware in 2009, interest in the program has soared. It reached its zenith on Sunday in what might have been the most important basketball game played in the nation's first state."This was actually better than I could have even imagined," Delle Donne said. "Our fans were absolutely crazy. The atmosphere was amazing."Delaware had never won an NCAA tournament game before last year. The Blue Hens have yet to reach the round of 16, a milestone they will seek to accomplish Tuesday night at home against either North Carolina or Albany.After watching the Blue Hens struggle with West Virginia's quickness inside and out during the first half, Martin started a taller lineup in the second half. She also shifted to a 2/3 zone and moved Delle Donne farther from the basket.Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 senior, scored 20 points after halftime. She finished 10 for 24 from the floor, went 12 for 13 at the foul line and had seven rebounds."I was able to get away from the players a little bit instead of banging with them inside," Delle Donne said. "I was able to elevate and shoot over people."Ayana Dunning had 15 points and 10 rebounds for 11th-seeded West Virginia (17-14), which closed the season with a four-game losing streak. The Mountaineers blew a 19-point halftime lead in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma, and they also wilted in the second half of this one."The similarities were we didn't execute as well as we could have in both games," Dunning said. "It is kind of frustrating."West Virginia went 7 for 22 from the floor after halftime, committed 11 turnovers compared to six in the first half and was outscored 40-20 over the final 20 minutes."It's two halves," coach Mike Carey said. "They went 2-3, a little bit bigger in the second half, and they hurt us on the boards. The first half, we didn't put Delle Donne on the foul line. Second half, she had 13 foul shots."Both teams struggled immediately after the intermission. The Mountaineers missed their first six shots and the Blue Hens went 1 for 7, leaving the Mountaineers up 33-28 with 15 minutes remaining.Delaware returned from a timeout to score seven straight points to take its first lead since 20-19. Minutes later, four different Blue Hens scored in an 8-0 run that made it 51-42."We just didn't get the stops we were getting in the first half," Carey lamented.It was 54-48 before Delle Donne worked her way inside to bank a short jumper off the glass for an eight-point cushion with 3:23 remaining.In the first half, Delle Donne scored half of Delaware's 26 points. West Virginia used a 7-2 run to close a half that featured three ties and seven lead changes.