Welcome to the NCAA tournament, Elena Delle Donne. Stick around for a few more days, won't you?
Delle Donne, the nation's leading scorer, had 39 points and 11 rebounds to lift third-seeded Delaware to a 73-42 win over 14th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock in the Little Rock Regional on Sunday.
The Blue Hens (31-1) earned their first victory in three NCAA tournament games and ran their winning streak to 21 in a row.
It was also the tournament debut for Delle Donne, the former Connecticut signee who transferred back to her hometown Delaware and led the school to the WNIT the past two seasons. The junior didn't disappoint, collecting 20 points and nine rebounds in the first half and helping the Blue Hens pull away in the second.
“I think our team did a good job introducing ourselves to the country,” Delle Donne said.
Marian Kursh had 12 points for the Trojans (20-13), who were making their third straight NCAA appearance. The Sun Belt Conference tournament champions, however, had no answers for Delle Donne.
Delaware entered the tournament as a trendy pick for a deep run because of Delle Donne and the team's success this season. The Blue Hens' only loss was an 85-76 decision at No. 5 Maryland on Dec. 29.
Even President Barack Obama mentioned the Blue Hens and Delle Donne when making his tournament predictions, picking the team to advance to the regional finals by beating second-seeded Tennessee along the way.
The Blue Hens will face the winner Kansas, a 57-49 winner over Nebraska, in the second round on Tuesday.
“I knew they would be nervous,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said. “This was a big game for them and our university. It's a sense of pride for them.”
The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne had 39 of Delaware's first 56 points before taking a seat on the bench for good midway through the second half. She went 14 for 27 from the field, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range.
The former national high school player of the year opened the game 4 of 11 from the field, even missing a point-blank layup at one point, but she settled down to hit 10 of her last 16 shots.
“She's a very versatile player,” Kursh said. “You feel like you are there, and then she will give you a fake and shoot above you.”
Lauren Carra added 12 points for the Blue Hens, who had 10 players score.
UALR, which trailed 32-22 at halftime, was just 16 of 51 (31 percent) from the field. Freshman Taylor Gault, the Trojans' leading scorer, was 3 of 19 and finished with seven points.
“I think was got a little shell-shocked and didn't get off to a good start,” UALR coach Joe Foley said. “She got to looking at the scoreboard and got a little down.”
The Trojans stayed close early on, aided by Delaware's 12-of-31 shooting performance before the break.
The Blue Hens, particularly Delle Donne, put the game away in the second half -- hitting 16 of 31 shots and leading by as many as 34 points.
Delle Donne opened the half with a jumper, then added her fourth 3-pointer of the game on the next possession to put Delaware up 42-28. She scored nine in a row to put the Blue Hens up 51-28 before exiting the game for the first time with 11:58 remaining.
After her fifth 3-pointer and another jumper, Delle Donne's work was done -- with Delaware up 56-30 and well on its way to advancing.
That 26-point deficit was as close as UALR would get the rest of the way.
Delle Donne, meanwhile, was also well on her way to trending on Twitter and claiming the nation's spotlight.
“It's pretty cool about Twitter, but I'm excited about our team nationally,” Delle Donne said.
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