NEWARK, Del. – In the strange world of the NCAA women's tournament, a No. 3 seed found itself on the home floor of a sixth-seeded opponent.
It was an unpleasant visit for North Carolina, sent home after a bitter defeat.
Elena Delle Donne scored 33 points to lead Delaware past the Tar Heels 78-69 on Tuesday night. The victory, on their own floor, thrust the No. 6 seed Blue Hens into the round of 16 for the first time in school history.
"I wish Delaware good luck when they get on a neutral court," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said, a not-so-veiled reference to the officiating.
North Carolina was called for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the Blue Hens, and the Tar Heels' two leading scorers, Waltiea Rolle and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, battled foul trouble throughout the second half.
"With Pratt and Waltiea both out, that was the difference in the game," Hatchell said. "But I told the girls in the locker room, 'This is a great lesson. Life isn't always fair.'"
Rolle scored 23 points, but the 6-foot-6 senior got her third foul 16:39 to play, her fourth with 12:47 left and finally picked up her fifth with 4:08 remaining.
Ruffin-Pratt, who scored a career-high 30 points against Albany in the tournament opener, played the final 11:55 with four fouls and finished with four points on 1-for-13 shooting.
"My shot was going in against Albany. Tonight it wasn't," she said. "I sat a lot with foul trouble and I think that was the difference."
The Blue Hens (32-3) trailed 50-42 with 15:31 left before coming back to extend their school-record winning streak to 27 games and eliminate North Carolina (29-7). Delaware will next travel to Connecticut to face No. 2 seed Kentucky.
Vice President Joe Biden was part of the second straight packed house at Delaware. Most of the fans wore royal blue, yellow, or a combination of both. But the biased throng wasn't as much of a factor as Delaware's 32 free throws (12 more than the Tar Heels).
"I don't think the crowd bothered us," Hatchell said.
Delle Donne missed 18 of 28 field goal tries, but the 6-5 senior went 11 for 13 at the line and now has 3,006 points during a sensational career in her home state.
"I don't think I've wanted anything more than this win, and that's saying a lot," she said.
Trumae Lucas scored 20 for the Blue Hens and Danielle Parker contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.
"This is without question that greatest victory in Delaware sports history," coach Tina Martin declared.
Delaware trailed 48-39 when Rolle picked up her third foul. The Tar Heels slowed down their offense to kill time while their center was on the bench, and she returned 2 minutes later but was whistled for her fourth foul with 12:47 left.
To make matters worse, Ruffin-Pratt got her fourth foul less than a minute later.
With its two leading scorers on the bench, North Carolina came apart. Delle Donne made a basket, Parker scored on a drive and Lucas sank two straight layups to put the Blue Hens up 52-51, their first lead since 30-29.
Xylina McDaniel then scored on a drive for the Tar Heels, their first basket in nearly six minutes, but Delle Donne reached the 3,000 mark with a follow of her own miss to put Delaware back in front.
It was 63-60 when Rolle fouled out, and Lucas subsequently made two foul shots for a 65-60 advantage.
Told of Hatchell's insinuation about the officiating, Martin said, "I don't see it the same way Coach Hatchell does. We will agree to disagree on this one."
Rolle had 15 points and six blocked shots in the first half to offset a 19-point effort by Delle Donne and help the Tar Heels take a 43-35 lead at the break.
North Carolina's Megan Buckland hit four straight rainbow 3-pointers at one stretch, but her scoring spree was all but forgotten after the Blue Hens staged their second-half comeback.