Published March 10, 2012
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – Delaware coach Tina Martin was a bit concerned when she noticed how quiet her players were Saturday before the seventh-ranked Blue Hens faced UNC Wilmington in the semifinal round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
In an effort to lighten the mood, Martin told a joke about cooking tacos.
"Maybe three people laughed," Martin said. "I was like, 'Uh oh.'"
It didn't take long for Martin to realize there was nothing to worry about. Delaware limited the Seahawks to 14 percent shooting in the decisive first half and stormed into the CAA title game with a 66-39 blowout win.
"After the ball went up," Martin said, "I knew that we were really focused. Listen, we're all playing for a championship here."
Delaware forward Elena Delle Donne, the nation's leading scorer, shot 5 for 12 from the field and finished with 15 points — well below her 28-point average.
But the 6-foot-5 junior logged only 18 minutes due to the lopsided score and because the Blue Hens will be playing their third game in three days on Sunday, when they vie for the school's first CAA tournament championship.
Delaware (29-1) won its school-record 19th straight game and will next face Drexel, which beat James Madison in the other semifinal game Saturday.
The Blue Hens, who lost in the final round in 2003, 2005 and 2011, are undefeated in league play this season.
If the players again appear to be subdued before Sunday's game, Martin won't worry about telling any more jokes.
"If we have this same preparation tomorrow, trust me, I won't be saying about that," Martin said. "We were ready, obviously, by the way we came out and played."
Delaware trailed only once, for 35 seconds after UNCW made its first two shots. It was 42-13 at halftime, and as a result, Martin got to rest her starters for most of the second half.
'We're on a mission," Martin said. "We really want to get this. This has been one of our goals, and we've got one more game. That's what we came here for."
That was apparent by the silent locker room Saturday morning.
"It was definitely focus. There wasn't any nervousness today," Delle Donne said. "This whole season has been in preparation for (Sunday's) game. We knew we wanted to get there. I knew my teammates were ready. I wasn't worried at all."
Delaware's winning streak includes three victories over UNCW (20-12).
Akeema Richards scored 13 for the Blue Hens, whose only loss this season was at No. 5 Maryland on Dec. 29.
Tawanna Lee led the Seahawks with 13 points. UNCW scored 94 in a quarterfinal win over Hofstra, including 51 in the first half.
Against Delaware, however, the majority of the Seahawks' shots clanged off the rim or never even made it to the basket. Alisha Andrews, the team's leading scorer, went 0 for 9 with two turnovers before halftime.
Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke attributed the poor shooting to fatigue.
"At the end of the day, three games in three days is tough to overcome," she said. "Some of those 3-pointers we knocked down yesterday were just a little bit short today. You miss a couple, then you start thinking, 'Hey, I'm tired.' I just thought we got off to a rough start, and that worked against us mentally."
After taking a 5-3 lead, UNCW missed 16 straight field-goal tries in falling behind 22-8. At that point, Delle Donne had more points (nine) than the Seahawks.
A driving layup by Lee finally ended UNCW's drought with 9:33 left in the half. Delaware then went on a 20-2 run in which seven different players scored.
Delle Donne took a seat on the bench in the midst of the barrage and stayed there over the final five minutes.
She started the second half, contributed a pair of baskets and sat down for good after six minutes of work. Delaware held a 51-21 lead with 14 minutes left, and soon after that Martin called upon her reserves to finish up the rout.