Debbie Taylor has had a courtside seat for the Elena Delle Donne phenomenon and the William and Mary coach is most impressed with how the Delaware junior forward keeps getting better.
After Delle Donne had 26 points and 11 rebounds in the eighth-ranked Blue Hens' 79-53 win against the Tribe on Wednesday night, Taylor reflected on her team's 70-66 loss to Delaware on Feb. 13, 2011.
"She didn't have a field goal in the second half," Taylor said of the matchup a year ago. "She's really, from last year to this year, stepped her game up and made a tremendous improvement in her intensity. She's, in my opinion, one of the best three players in the country."
Delle Donne came into Wednesday's game leading the nation with 28.3 points per game and 15th in rebounding at 10.4. Her shooting percentage of 52.4 was 28th, and she finished 9 for 15 from the floor against the Tribe.
"She is obviously the centerpiece of that team, and she knows it," Taylor said. "She'll lay low for a while, but when it's time to score, give her the ball and she's going to score."
Delle Donne was 3 for 6 from 3-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line as Delaware (27-1, 18-0 Colonial Athletic Association) became the first team to go undefeated in the conference since 2001-02.
"It's very satisfying," said Delle Donne, who also had three blocks. "It's definitely one of those things we wanted to accomplish this season and we're very excited about it. We're going to enjoy it for a little bit, but we have way bigger things to handle. Coach says it a lot - anyone can start something, but champions finish."
In this case, Delle Donne and Delaware coach Tina Martin were referring to the CAA tournament, which begins March 8. Delaware's last conference loss was a 67-61 defeat to James Madison in the conference tournament championship game last March 13.
The tournament champion receives an automatic NCAA tournament berth, though the Blue Hens, whose only loss this season came at No. 6 Maryland, 85-76, on Dec. 29, are unlikely to have to worry about that.
"We made some history," Martin said. "Going 18-0 is extremely difficult to do in this league. I knew this team had the potential to be very good, but no, I wouldn't have thought that, because of the competition we face day in and day out."
Janine Aldridge scored 15 points to lead William and Mary (10-19, 3-15), which shot 36 percent (21 for 59) while allowing Delaware to shoot 52 percent (33 for 64).
Danielle Parker and Lauren Carra each scored 14 points for the Blue Hens.
The game was the final home contest in the careers of Tribe seniors Taysha Pye and Katherine DeHenzel. Pye ranks second on William and Mary's all-time scoring list with 1,647 points, while DeHenzel broke the school's single-season assists record this year and has 168 after getting eight against Delaware.
The Tribe got within 10 early in the second half, but Delle Donne's layup sparked a decisive 10-2 run.
Despite drawing an immediate double-team every time she touched the ball, Delle Donne finished with 12 points in the first half. Her two free throws with 6 minutes left in the first half gave Delaware its first double-digit lead at 28-17, and her 3-pointer put the Blue Hens up 37-20.
She made a 3 with 7:37 to play that pushed Delaware's lead to 66-45, and her three-point play with 5:45 remaining stretched the margin to 70-45. She took a seat on the bench after making the free throw for her final point.
The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne, who also ranks 15th in the country with 10.4 rebounds per game, had a scholarship offer from North Carolina in the eighth grade and won the Naismith Award as a high school senior. She committed to play at Connecticut, but her stay in Storrs lasted just two days before she returned home to Wilmington, Del., in the summer of 2008.
Closer to home and to her family, including her older sister, Lizzie, who was born deaf, blind and with cerebral palsy, Delle Donne enrolled at Delaware that fall. After a stint on the volleyball team, she joined the Blue Hens' basketball team for the 2009-10 season.
She averaged 26.7 points as a freshman and 25.3 points as a sophomore. In last August's World University Games, she had 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the United State's 101-66 gold-medal victory against Taiwan.
Already Delaware's all-time leading scorer, Delle Donne came into Wednesday's game fifth in CAA history with 2,096 career points, sixth with 187 career blocks and third with 545 free throws made. She scored a school-record 54 points at James Madison in 2010, and her 26.9 point-per-game average is 9.2 points higher than the next-closest Blue Hen.
"This season, I've definitely allowed the game to just come to me and flow, whereas in prior years I might have forced it a little more," Delle Donne said. "I have so much trust in my teammates. They're all phenomenal players and they step up. If I'm getting double- and tripled-teamed, I know they're going to hit their shots."