BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – With a few seconds left and her team facing an insurmountable deficit, Elena Delle Donne walked off the court for the final time in a Delaware uniform.
Her incredible journey at the school had come to an end.
"It was definitely an emotional moment," she said. "It had sunk in a little bit before that the game would be over and we weren't going to be on top. It's extremely emotional as it was a goodbye to the fans and Delaware, I got a little teary eyed."
The 6-foot-5 star, who grew up in the state and brought national attention to the women's basketball program, helped the Blue Hens advance farther than before. They fell just short in the end, losing to second-seeded Kentucky 69-62 on Saturday.
As she's done for her entire career, Delle Donne tried to lift the Blue Hens to victory. She scored 33 points against Kentucky, but it just wasn't enough as Delaware's 27-game winning streak came to an end. Delle Donne scored 33 points in each of the Blue Hens' three tournament games this season.
Coach Tina Martin subbed out her star pupil and the two embraced in a long hug as the crowd gave her a loud ovation.
"Giving her the moment was the right thing to do. That's why I did what I did," Martin said. "She's so special to the University of Delaware, the state of Delaware. I wanted them to have one last time to say thank you to her and the legacy she set for the program."
Delle Donne ended her career as the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history with 3,039 points. She passed former stars Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Maya Moore on Saturday. She finished well short of Jackie Stiles' all-time scoring mark of 3,393 set at Southwest Missouri State from 1998-2001.
Delle Donne said she had no idea she had passed those women's basketball greats.
"I wasn't aware of anything of that nature," Delle Donne said. "That's incredible and it's definitely humbling to be amongst those names."
There's little doubt that Delle Donne may have broken the scoring mark had she not missed 22 games in her career. The 6-foot-5 star who is averaging 26.6 points in her career — the third best mark ever — sat out six games this season with a reoccurrence of the symptoms of Lyme disease that forced her to miss a dozen games two years ago.
She did all she could to take Delaware to the regional final. Trailing by 14 early in the second half, the Blue Hens cut their deficit to 62-60 with 2:47 left on a jumper by Delle Donne that touched nearly every part of the rim before dropping in.
That was as close as they could get as Kastine Evans sand a 3-pointer and Delaware couldn't get a basket.
"Kastine hit the biggest shot of the game with that 3-pointer," Martin said. "That broke our back, giving them enough cushion at end of the game that they were able to sustain it and finish the game off."
Delle Donne had little help in the first half as her teammates struggled from the field. The senior forward scored 13 straight points as Delaware trailed 17-15 midway through the first half. Then Kentucky took over by scoring the next 10 points. Bria Goss got the run started with a jumper and capped it with a layup for a 27-17 lead.
The teams then traded baskets the rest of the half with Jennifer O'Neill hitting a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to make it 41-27. O'Neill finished with 19 points and A'dia Mathies added 16 for the Wildcats, who advanced to the regional final for the second straight season.
The Wildcats, who already have a school record for victories, lost to Connecticut last season by 15 points.
"When we were here last year and go back and watch those games I think we're more talented than the team last year," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
The Wildcats would love to get down to New Orleans, the site the Final Four. It's the same city where the Kentucky men's team won the national championship last season.
"That's something isn't it," Mitchell said. "We'd love the opportunity."
It was the third straight NCAA game that the Blue Hens trailed at the half. They were able to rally against West Virginia and North Carolina at home and tried their best to pull off another.
Lauren Carra had a big second half and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds to provide a second offensive threat for the Blue Hens.
Delaware, which had never made it past the second round before this season, played its first two games at home in front of a raucous crowd that included Vice President Joe Biden.
While Biden didn't make it up to the game Saturday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did. He graduated from Delaware and met his wife Mary Pat at the school. Christie wore a yellow Delaware fleece, had pictures taken and signed ticket stubs for fans.
The game was originally planned for the governor's state. Trenton was supposed to host the regional until the NCAA moved it in November, citing a new law that allowed gambling on college sports in New Jersey. The switch didn't seem to impact ticket sales, as Saturday's session was sold out with nearly 8,600 fans expected to attend each session.
The two teams had only played once before, with Delaware winning 86-70 in 2006.
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