William and Mary came out with some added fire and passion on Senior Night Wednesday, but Elena Delle Donne and No. 8 Delaware were just too much for the Tribe, dealing the College a 79-53 defeat to wrap up the regular season.
The loss dropped the Tribe to 10-19 overall and 3-15 in the conference. The Blue Hens became the first team since Old Dominion in 2002 to run the table in CAA play, finishing at 27-1 in the regular season and 18-0 in the conference.
Junior guard Janine Aldridge led the Tribe with 15 points on 5 of 14 shooting while senior guard Taysha Pye, playing in Kaplan Arena for the final time, scored 14 on 7 of 23 shooting while grabbing six rebounds and logging two assists. (More after the video).
“We were all hoping for a better outcome tonight,” head coach Debbie Taylor said, “and a better game for [Pye and senior guard Katherine DeHenzel] but I was proud of their effort and fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach them both.”
Delle Donne, the nation’s leading scorer averaging 28.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, starred again, putting up 26 points on 9 of 15 shooting while pulling down 11 rebounds.
The College traded blows with the Blue Hens over the first part of the opening half, shooting well and effectively neutralizing Delle Donne with a box-and-one, using Pye, Aldridge and others to man-mark the superstar while the rest of the team stayed in a zone. DeHenzel pushed the tempo when the Tribe had the ball and the College’s offense was particularly crisp. A fast break jumper from Pye gave the Tribe an 11-10 lead with 12 minutes, 48 seconds left in the half, but that would be the final time the College led.
Minutes earlier, the Tribe had picked up two consecutive off-ball fouls guarding Delle Donne, spelling trouble for the physical style the College was trying to play, and soon the attention the team was paying the 6’5’ junior translated to open looks for the other Blue Hens, which they started knocking down.
“The strategy is to limit [Delle Donne’s] touches, make her take difficult shots and hope everybody else doesn’t score,” Taylor said. “We alternated. We played box-and-one on makes and zone on misses and tried to guard her with two people every time she put the ball on the floor and just contain her as much as we could, which worked for a little while. … You have to play the odds and they’re other kids shot really well. We left them a little bit too open at times, we weren’t getting out but she’s such a great player you’re just going to have to pick your battles … and hope for the best.”
At the same time, the College cooled off, and over the last ten minutes of the half Delaware outscored the Tribe 22-13, giving the Blue Hens a 13-point lead to take into the locker room. While Delaware shot 46.9 percent from the floor in the first period, the College connected on just 33.3 percent of its shots, going 1 of 6 from downtown. (More after the slideshow).
“People were really stepping up and hitting their shots,” Delle Donne said. “You can’t stay in the box-and-one against our team because we have too much of a balanced attack.”
Things only got worse for the Tribe in the second, as a previously-patient Delle Donne began to attack, showing off her versatility by either pulling up and knocking down jumpers or getting to the basket and scoring in the paint. Seven consecutive points from junior center Jaclyn McKenna kept the College within shouting distance down 51-36 at the 15:41 mark, but the Blue Hens would pull away. To go along with Delle Donne’s dominance were three other Blue Hens scoring in double-figures as Delaware went on to shoot 56.3 percent from the field in the second half, finishing the game at 51.6 percent.
Shooting and rebounding were the big difference-makers, as the Blue Hens won the battle on the glass 42-30, turning their 12 offensive rebounds into 15 second-half points while the College scored just two on extra possessions. Delaware had its way down low with the Tribe all night, outscoring the College in the paint 30-12.
The College heads into the conference tournament the No. 11 seed and will take on Virginia Commonwealth in the first round March 8. The two teams split the season series, both defeating the other by three on the road.
“We’re kind of a Jekyll and Hide team,” Taylor said, “so we have to get over to the good side these next couple days of practice. We’re very good when we play well ad very bad when we don’t. … I’m hopeful with the experience that we have, that we can get firing on all cylinders in the tournament.”
Having played their final home games, Pye and DeHenzel were asked about what they think has been the best part of William and Mary.
“Coach Taylor and our assistant coaches do a great job of providing us with opportunities,” DeHenzel said. “Not just the basketball experience here at William and Mary but they put us on a platform to succeed in life really, so we have that to look forward to when we graduate. It’s been a really great experience.”
Pye talked about the friends she’d made over her four years.
“The relationships you build,” she said. “Every single person I’ve had from freshman year to senior year I’ll probably always have contact with them, they’ll always be my friends so I feel like the relationships is the biggest thing.”