NEWWARK, Del. – The No. 11-seeded West Virginia women’s basketball team will face sixth-seeded Delaware at 12:15 p.m., this Sunday, March 24 on its home court.
The teams will face off in front of a 5,000-seat sold out crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center.
“I think that the community and the fans at Delaware have been incredible,” Delaware coach Tina Martin said. “They have embraced women’s basketball here in Delaware. I expect it to be electric and for everyone to be into every play. The Bob Carpenter Center is a great venue for women’s basketball. There have been games here where I thought the roof was going to come off.”
“I definitely think our road games have helped us out this year in terms of preparation of playing on the road in front of sold out crowds,” WVU senior Ayana Dunning said. “To play in front of a home court and have excited fans for the other team; we know what it’s like to have our backs against the wall and the Big 12 has prepared us for what we have to face tomorrow.”
Making its ninth NCAA tournament appearance in program history, the Mountaineers (17-13) have made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament five times under coach Mike Carey and seven times in the history of the program.
WVU will take on a No. 15/16-ranked Delaware team who has won 30-of-33 games and has three-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne leads UD, averaging 25.3 points per game, the second-highest scoring average in the nation.
The Blue Hens advance to the NCAA tournament after winning their conference tournament for the second consecutive year. Delaware completed its second straight perfect season through the CAA, extending its school-record season win streak to 25 games, upping its overall win streak to 42 consecutive over conference opponents and clinching their second straight 30-win season.
Playing on its home court, Delaware is 13-2 in the Bob Carpenter Center with a 62-56 loss to Georgetown in the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 11 and a 69-53 loss at the hands of then-No. 9/8 Maryland on Dec. 20.
“First of all, we are thrilled to be back in the NCAA tournament,” Martin said. “It’s been an amazing ride for our team. I also want to welcome the other teams to the tournament. We are really looking forward to the game tomorrow and we will be playing a very good West Virginia team.”
Delaware takes care of the ball, limiting its turnovers to only 11.8 per game, the fourth-lowest turnover average in the nation, which will be necessary to be successful against WVU because the Mountaineers are aggressive in the passing lanes, averaging 10.3 steals per game.
“The coaches have been preparing us to set good screens and use them correctly. We have to do the little things to get open offensively,” Delle Donne explained. “Hopefully, we can use their aggressiveness against them and possibly get them in foul trouble.”
The Blue Hens are similar to the Mountaineers in that both teams share a defensive mindset. Delaware limits opponents to only 51.2 points per game, the eighth-lowest scoring average nationally, while WVU limits its opposition to 60.6 points per game. Part of the defensive efforts come in guarding the three as UD limits opponents to 27.2 percent from beyond the arc and WVU holds opponents to 27 percent. From the field WVU limits teams to 38.5 percent shooting, while Delaware limits its opposition to 33.8 percent.
Also a member of the CAA All-Defensive Team, senior Delle Donne leads the team with 63 blocks and matches senior forward Danielle Parker as the rebounding leader with 8.5 boards per game each. Standing at 6-foot-5, Delle Donne enters Sunday’s game four rebounds away from 1,000 for her career and aids the Blue Hens as the leading shooter with 49.8 percent (240-of-482) from the field and 49.0 percent (153-of-166) from beyond the arc.
Second Team All-CAA honoree Lauren Carra is the only other player scoring in double figures with 11.1 points per game on 40.2 percent (125-of-311) shooting from the field and 33.1 percent (42-of-127) from 3-point range. Kayla Miller leads the team with 108 assists, while limiting turnovers to only 49 for a 2.2 assist/turnover ratio.
On the offensive end, WVU averages 5.5 threes per game, shooting 30.9 percent, while Delaware averages 4.3 a game, shooting 34.7 percent.
The Mountaineers are led in scoring by junior All-Big 12 First Teamer Christal Caldwell with 13.2 points per game on 34.7 percent shooting from the field and 36.1 percent from 3-point range. Senior Ayana Dunning, who earned honorable mention honors in the league, averages 10.0 points per game and is West Virginia’s leading rebounder with 6.1 per outing.
Taylor Palmer rounds out the top three scorers with 9.8 points per game, including 60 threes. Sophomore starter Averee Fields averages 8.0 points per game and is the second-leading rebounder with 5.0 boards per game. True freshman Bria Holmes offers a spark off the bench with 5.9 points per game.
The Mountaineers enter Saturday’s game after falling to the No. 3-seeded Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 Quarterfinals. West Virginia found itself with a 19-point halftime lead, but Oklahoma used a 40-point second-half surge to come from behind, handing the Mountaineers a 65-64 early exit. Since their last loss, however, the Mountaineers have continued to prepare for postseason play.
“That wasn’t the way we wanted to end our season,” coach Mike Carey said. “We were hoping postseason was going to come. These girls have handled it very well—better than I do. They do a good job of focusing on the next task. I’ve been very proud of these players this year—win or lose. Of all the things we’ve gone through with changing leagues, the travel and all that; I’ve been very proud of them because it’s tough.”
The winner of Sunday’s West Virginia-Delaware matchup will advance to face the winner of Sunday’s No. 3-seed North Carolina vs. No. 14-seed Albany matchup on Tuesday, March 26. Sunday’s games will air live nationally on ESPN2 with breakaway coverage, however fans can watch the entire game without interruption on ESPN3.com.