NEWARK, Del. -- How Sweet It Is!
The No. 15 ranked University of Delaware women's basketball squad made history once again Tuesday night as the Blue Hens earned their first-ever trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 with a thrilling 78-69 victory over No. 13 North Carolina at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Playing before another boisterous capacity crowd, which included Vice-President Joe Biden, the Blue Hens grabbed the lead for good with 8:46 left to play and held on down the stretch to post their 27 straight victory, the third longest in the nation in NCAA Division I and the longest in UD history.
The No. 6 seed Blue Hens, who set a school record for wins in improving to 32-3, now advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 where they will face No. 7 ranked Kentucky Saturday at 12 noon at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. Kentucky (29-5) advanced with an 84-70 win over Dayton Tuesday night.
All-American Elena Delle Donne (at right) was brilliant once again for the Blue Hens as she poured in 33 points, pulled eight rebounds, and became just the ninth player in NCAA Division I history to reach the 3,000-point plateau. The 30-point effort was her seventh of the season.
Guard Trumae Lucas (at left) gave the Hens a big lift off the bench with a career-high 20 points, four assists, and four steals, while Danielle Parker contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season.
The No. 3 seed Tar Heels (29-7), who let an eight-point halftime lead slip away, got 23 points from Waltiea Rolle while Megan Buckland came off the bench to drain a career-high five three-pointers and finish with 17 points and Brittany Rountree chipped in with 10 points.
North Carolina leading scorer Tierra Ruffin-Pratt dished out a career-high nine assists but was plagued with foul trouble all night and managed just four points.
"Unbelievable," said Delaware 17th-year head coach Tina Martin, who has led her teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and for the fourth time in school history. "I can't describe what our team went through out there. This is the greatest win in Delaware history. I have never been in an atmosphere like that in 25 years. I want to thank the Blue Hen fans. I will cherish this forever."
After trailing by eight points at the break - the Hens' largest first half deficit of the season - and still down by seven at 51-44 with 14:55 left, Delaware exploded on an eight-point run to take the lead at 52-51 with 11:24 left after a Lucas jumper.
The lead changed twice before the Hens took the lead for good on a layup from Jaquetta May with 8:23 remaining that ignited a 12-4 run that put the Hens up 67-60 with 3:56 left. The Tar Heels never got closer than four the rest of the way as Parker, Lucas, and Delle Donne combined to hit five free throws in the final 27 seconds to keep UNC at bay.
"We were not ready to be done," said Parker of the Hens' halftime deficit. "There is still too much we want to accomplish. It was all about executing our game plan out there in the second half. We want more basketball."
Delaware held a 43-35 advantage on the boards and outscored the Tar Heels 26-14 at the foul line. The Hens turned the ball over just nine times.
The victory marked the final home game for Delaware's seven seniors led by Delle Donne, a two-time All-American who played numerous games on the Bob Carpenter Center floor not only as a Blue Hen but as six-year varsity high school standout at Wilmington's Ursuline Academy.
"It was emotional saying goodbye to the fans at "The Bob", said Delle Donne, who entered the NCAA Tournament as the nation's second leading scorer at 25.8 points per game after leading all NCAA Division I players in 2011-12. "We deserved to win our last game on this court. I don't think I wanted anything more than this and that is saying a lot. The win is awesome. The 3,000 points is humbling, but coming away with this win means everything to me and my teammates."