By Bill Campbell
Delaware’s Elena Delle Donna was last week’s story. But she has proven to be no one trick pony. She made headlines through another week in her first NCAA national tournament appearance. The Blue Hens, with Delle Donna scoring 39 points and collecting 11 rebounds, roared past the 14th seeded Little Rock, Arkansas team, 73-42. It was Delle Donna’s first ever national tournament and she made the most of it. Delaware is now 31-1 on the year and this was its first victory in three NCAA tournament games. Its winning streak for this season has now reached 21 straight. Delle Donna is leading the nation in scoring, averaging 28 points per game. In this game she scored 20 points and 9 rebounds in the first half, pretty much deciding the issue. Delaware is a trendy pick for a substantial run in the tournament mainly because of the almost unstoppable 6’5” Delle Donna. This all might come to an end for the Blue Hens in the second round of this tournament because the opposition will be provided by either Nebraska or Kansas, which could be a tough step as Delaware moves up in class. In Little Rock, Delle Donna had 39 of Delaware’s first 56 points before going to the bench for good after going 14 for 27 from the field, including 5 for 8 from three-point range.
But a bigger story this week was written on the ice by hockey star Scott Hartnell of the Flyers. He scored in the very last second of overtime, the latest overtime victory in Flyers’ history, to defeat the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2. Prior to last Sunday, Pittsburgh and Boston shared a combined record of 51-0-2 when leading after 2 periods. The Flyers trailed by 2 goals Saturday in Boston and again on Sunday against the visiting Penguins, to steal all of 4 points against teams that had yielded only a combined 2 points all season when leading into the third period. Hartnell won this game for the Flyers without a second to spare, 0.9 seconds left to be specific, stopping the Penguins’ 11-game winning streak and stopping Pittsburgh from tying the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division of the NHL. Better yet, the Flyers of late have recorded two significant wins against these two teams, placing them just 3 points behind the Rangers. After this past weekend, the Flyers seem to have proven they can play with the top contenders. They have now won five straight at home and have ten games remaining, seven of them at home. Two of their three remaining road games, however, are in Pittsburgh against their very possible play-off opponent. In the words of their coach, Peter Laviolette, “This weekend we played the Bruins, the Stanley Cup champions. We battled back and played hard. The Penguins were on a roll. Everybody was talking about their team. I can’t say enough about our guys.”
By way of contrast, the low point of the week had to be Temple’s surprising and disappointing defeat in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It has produced all sorts of questions, provoked by the Owls losing to the University of South Florida. First, it is hard to believe that Temple was able to score only 44 points while holding the opposition to just 11% of its scoring attempts in the first half. How did USF also manage to miss 22 consecutive shots in one stretch and still win the game? Were the Owls, a number five seed in the Midwest Regional, simply over-rated? Coach Fran Dunphy felt his team simply didn’t run its offense as needed, although everyone had to know that USF featured defense. Was Temple unprepared? Hard to believe. In Dunphy’s words, “We had a couple of open looks but it just didn’t work out for us.” Why did Temple lose its poise in handling the ball, heretofore its long suit? How did USF go from a 21-21 tie to a 39-25 lead in just over 5 minutes? There is one partial explanation for the Temple performance – namely, that you could see it coming prior to the big dance. The Owls actually haven’t played well for the last two weeks. The game against UMass that bounced the Owls in their opening game of the Atlantic Ten tournament might have been our first clue. Dunphy, despite his solid record at both Penn and Temple, is now 1-5 in the NCAA Tournament and 1-2 as the favored seed. There was also a technical foul called against Temple’s Kahlif Wyatt when he grabbed an opponent’s shirt while the Owls were still holding a 9 point lead. USF got back into the game by shooting fouls, the only way they were scoring, and a technical foul on a loose ball play really cost the Owls. The USF Bulls made 10 of their first 13 shots of the second half to build a 14 point cushion with 12 minutes to play. Give the Bulls credit; it wasn’t all defense that sent the Owls crumbling. The Owls at one point had an 11 point lead but scored only 6 points over the next 15 minutes while the opposition finally started connecting. With just over 5 minutes left, Temple was within 3 at 41-38 but South Florida went on a 7-0 run to put the game out of Temple’s reach. It was a game Temple fans will long remember and will be one of the most talked about in the entire tournament.
With baseball just around the corner, a look at the Phillies’ health problems is in order. Chase Utley is visiting another unnamed specialist about his chronically injured knees and the general manager is more than a little concerned. Utley will almost certainly join Ryan Howard to begin the season on the disabled list. The right side of the infield, $155 million in guaranteed salary, will be absent for some time. Both knees are bothering the 33-year-old Utley, who will not return to the Clearwater camp until at least Thursday at the earliest. Ruben Amaro’s only comment regarding Utley, “I don’t know if anything has changed but he has not progressed the way we’d like” was in answer to a question as to whether Utley can ever be the player he was without the ability to drive the ball. Amaro’s reply, “I couldn’t even really speculate” doesn’t sound good. Phillies’ bench players have names like Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggington, Freddie Galvis, Jim Thome, John Mayberry and Michael Martinez. It might be a good idea to become familiar with these names. You might hear them more than you anticipated.