NEWARK, Del. -- The two-time defending Colonial Athletic Association champion University of Delaware women’s basketball squad found out Monday night who its next opponent would be as the No. 15 ranked Blue Hens will play host to West Virginia University in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday.
No. 6 seed Delaware (30-3), riding a 25-game winning streak that included a win over Drexel Sunday in the CAA title game, will play the No. 11 seed Mountaineers (17-13) Sunday at 12:15 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center as the Blue Hens host the first and second rounds for the first time in school history.
In the other first round game at the BCC Sunday, No. 3 North Carolina (28-6), which lost to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game March 10, will take on America East champion and No.14 seed Albany (27-3). The Great Danes will bring a 19-game winning streak into the game. The winners will advance to the second round Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center with that winner advancing on to the NCAA Sweet 16.
“We don’t care about the seed,” said Delaware head coach Tina Martin while speaking to a packed crowd that gathered at the Embassy Suites located just across the street from the Bob Carpenter Center to watch the ESPN selection show that featured the Blue Hens several times. “West Virginia is a very good team that we will need to keep off the boards. Rebounding will be very important. We are going to compete and we are going out to win.”
Delaware, which won a first-round NCAA Tournament game for the first time a year ago before falling to Kansas in the second round, will be looking to go even further this season led by a lineup that features seven seniors, including consensus first team All-American Elena Delle Donne. The 6-5 Delle Donne led the nation in scoring a year ago and is No. 2 overall this year, pouring in 25.3 points per game. She was the CAA Tournament Most Valuable Player over the weekend as she scored 28 points in the title game and 70 points in three games.
All-CAA senior guard Lauren Carra averaged 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while senior forward Danielle Parker averages 8.8 points per game and is tied with Delle Donne for the team lead with 8.5 rebounds per contest.
The Blue Hens rank fourth in the nation at the NCAA Division I level with just 11.8 turnovers per game while ranking No. 8 in scoring defense (51.2 points per game) and No. 11 in field goal percentage defense (.338).
Blue Hen junior guard Akeema Richards, the lone underclassmen in the starting lineup, played two seasons at West Virginia before transfering to Delaware prior to the 2010-11 season. Delaware has never played the Mountaineers in women’s basketball.
“We are so excited about being home for the tournament,” said Martin, who has now led four teams to the NCAA Tournament in 17 seasons. “This is such a thrill for our young ladies and our staff. We are so happy that we could bring a championship back home. I can’t think of a better place to be now than in Newark, Delaware. We have enjoyed this ride, but we’re not done yet.”
The first and second round games at the 5,000-seat Bob Carpenter Center have been sold out for several weeks. Delaware averaged 4,013 fans per game to rank among the national attendance leaders this season.
“It's so exciting to have these games at the Bob,” said Carra. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it, knowing that 5,000 of our fans are going to be here rooting for us. We know they've helped us through a lot of games, so we're very excited to play at home. Last year's (NCAA) experience definitely prepared us. We are mentally and physically ready.”
West Virginia went 17-13 this season, including a mark of 9-9 in Big XII Conference play, and fell to Oklahoma in the Big XII Tournament quarterfinals. Christal Caldwell averages 13.2 points per game while Ayana Dunning averages 10.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and Taylor Palmer has drained 60 three-pointers.
North Carolina, which was ranked among the nation’s Top 25 teams all season long, went 28-6 this season, including a 14-4 record in the ACC and a near-perfect 17-1 mark at home. The Tar Heels, who lost to Duke 92-73 in the ACC title game, are led by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (15.4 ppg), Xylina McDaniel (11.7 ppg/7.2 rpg), and Waltiea Rolle (11.7 ppg/6.4 rpg).
Albany (27-3) stormed through the America East schedule this season, winning the league regular season crown with a perfect 16-0 mark and sweeping New Hampshire and Hartford to win the league tournament title. The Great Danes feature a balanced lineup with four scorers in double figures led by Ebone Henry (13.9 ppg) and Megan Craig (10.6 ppg/4.9 rpg).
Albany ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense at 49.0 points per game while ranking fifth in the field goal percentage defense (.332) and seventh in rebounding margin (+10.4).