By Sean Greene 12:29am, March 26, 2013 - Updated 8:08am, March 26, 2013Delaware has its sights set on a first-ever berth in the Sweet 16 when the Blue Hens take on North Carolina tonight in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at the Bob.
Where: Bob Carpenter Center, Newark, Delaware
When: 7:00pm (EDT)
What: NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2nd Round
Who: #6 Delaware (31-3, CAA Champs) vs. #3 North Carolina (29-6, ACC At-Large)
On the Line: NCAA Regional Semifinal game vs. Kentucky/Dayton winner in Bridgeport, Connecticut
Series History: 1st Meeting
Last Round: Delaware 66, West Virginia 53.. UNC 59, Albany 54
NCAA Tournament History: Delaware 2-3 (2001, 2007, 2012), UNC 44-22 (Best: 1994 National Champs)
Coaches: Delaware - Tina Martin (340-180, 17th year), UNC - Sylvia Hatchell (908-320, 38th year overall)
Players to Watch:
Elena Delle Donne (6'5" Senior, 25.5PPG, 8.5RPG, 67 blocks) - In front of a national television audience, including former UConn star Rebecca Lobo, Elena put on a clinic in the second half of the West Virginia win. Despite harassing defense from WVU, Delaware's All-American scored 20 points after the break, including going 12-of-13 at the line. In the 40-20 second half, she also blocked 3 shots and grabbed 5 rebounds. UNC has eight 6-footers on their squad, so space will be tough to come by.
Kelsey Buchanan (6'3" Junior, 1.8PPG, 2.0RPG, 8.2 minutes) - I actually typed this preview up using my template from last year's Kansas game, and the player I had in this slot last year was Sarah Acker. Like Buchanan, Acker was a player who hadn't seen much playing time during the regular season, but saw her minutes skyrocket against the taller teams in the NCAA Tournament. As mentioned above, UNC is probably the tallest team Delaware has faced since Maryland. That means Kelsey will once again have the opportunity to build on the fantastic 10 point, 5 rebound performance against the Mountaineers. She must be aggressive, assertive, and make things tough for UNC inside. This will be a great showcase for one of the key cogs in the post-Sensational Seven era at Delaware.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (5'10" Senior, 15.8PPG, 3.8RPG, 4.4APG) - A first team All-ACC selection, Ruffin-Pratt is finally healthy after battling shoulder injuries throughout her Tar Heel career. She scored a career-high 30 points to will the Tar Heels back after trailing Albany for nearly the entire game in the opening round. A 25 percent three-pointer shooter in the regular season, Ruffin-Pratt has hit 4-of-7 in the ACC Tournament and Sunday combined. She is likely going to have a couple of inches on whichever player Tina Martin chooses to put on her. Delaware must keep her in front and hope she gets into foul trouble. She picked up a technical arguing a call in the Albany game and has fouled out three times this year. Tournament games are emotional, she must keep them in check.
Krista Gross (6'0" Senior, 6.4PPG, 8.5RPG, 1.6APG) - If it wasn't for Delle Donne, Gross would easily be the most versatile player on the court. Despite being a wing guard, she can attack the glass (leads UNC in boards) and also knows how to get herself to the free throw line (104 attempts on the year). Head Coach Sylvania Hatchell called her the "Eveready Bunny" for the energy and emotion she brings to a squad that starts a sophomore and a freshman along with three seniors. Another tough matchup for the Hens, they must block her out.
Delaware Will Win If: A second scorer steps up. Delaware only put two players in double figures against the Mountaineers, and one of them was a surprise in Kelsey Buchanan. Trumae Lucas, Lauren Carra, and Danielle Parker are all capable of putting up 15-20 points on a good night. If one of them can do that, it could take a lot of pressure off of Elena.
Delaware Will Lose If: UNC's guards get by Delaware's defense. The switch from man-to-man to the 2-3 matchup zone was able to stop West Virginia's dribble penetration, and it has to do a nice job of that again. Delaware also can't get into foul trouble in its back line. Besides Delle Donne, Parker, and Buchanan, the only tall player with any sort of playing time this year is Stephanie Leon.
North Carolina Will Win If: Size matters. Waltiea Rolle at 6'6" will be the tallest player on the court, and grabbed 14 points and 14 rebounds against 6'8" Megan Craig of Albany. Delle Donne is 3 inches shorter than Craig, but 3 times more athletic. Albany outrebounded UNC by 1, Delaware will be in trouble if UNC gains a big advantage on the glass.
North Carolina Will Lose If: They can't figure out how to shoot at the Bob. Their struggles against Albany weren't because they weren't getting good shots, it's that 12-14 foot open looks were grazing off the sides of the rim or airballs. Was it nerves? Was it the new arena? Was it the 2-week, post-ACC Tournament Layoff? Whatever the answer, Delaware figures to make UNC pay better than Albany if they keep it up.
Prediction: Delaware 71, North Carolina 69. This one won't be easy, but Delaware has stepped up so many times in big spots against tough opponents at home during this run the last 2 years: Penn State, Princeton, James Madison. Winning this one would put an incredible stamp on this team, but regardless, the atmosphere for this team's last home game should be off the charts.
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