NEWARK, Del. (AP) — Elena Delle Donne scored 33 points in her final home game, and Delaware rallied past foul-plagued North Carolina 78-69 on Tuesday night to advance to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
The sixth-seeded Blue Hens (32-3) trailed 50-42 with 15:31 left before coming back to extend their school-record winning streak to 27 games and eliminate No. 3 seed North Carolina (29-7). Delaware will next travel to Connecticut to face either Dayton or Kentucky.
Vice President Joe Biden was among those in the second straight sellout crowd at Delaware’s compact arena. Most of the fans wore royal blue, yellow, or a combination of both. Most of them were standing during the final 5 minutes of the game, when it became apparent the Blue Hens and Delle Donne would be playing at least once more this season.
After the final buzzer, Delaware players gathered at midcourt and waved to their fans in appreciation as most in the crowd chanted, “Let’s Go Hens!”
Delle Donne missed 18 of 28 field goal tries, but the 6-foot-5 senior went 11 for 13 at the line and now has 3,006 points during a sensational career in her home state.
Trumae Lucas scored 20 for the Blue Hens and Danielle Parker contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Waltiea Rolle scored 23 points for the Tar Heels, but the 6-6 senior was in foul trouble for much of the second half and finally picked up her fifth with 4:08 left.
North Carolina point guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who scored a career-high 30 points against Albany in the tournament opener, played the final 11:55 with four fouls and finished with four points on 1-for-13 shooting.
The Tar Heels were called for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the Blue Hens.
Delaware trailed 48-39 when Rolle picked up her third foul with 16:39 remaining. The Tar Heels slowed down their offense to kill time while their center was on the bench, and she returned 2 minutes later but was whistled for her fourth foul with 12:47 left.
To make matters worse, Ruffin-Pratt got her fourth foul less than a minute later.
With its two leading scorers on the bench, North Carolina came apart. Delle Donne made a basket, Parker scored on a drive and Lucas sank two straight layups to put the Blue Hens up 52-51, their first lead since 30-29.
Xylina McDaniel then scored on a drive for the Tar Heels, their first basket in nearly six minutes, but Delle Donne reached the 3,000 mark with a follow of her own miss to put Delaware back in front.
It was 63-60 when Rolle fouled out, and Lucas subsequently made two foul shots for a 65-60 advantage.
Rolle had 15 points and six blocked shots in the first half to offset a 19-point effort by Delle Donne and help the Tar Heels take a 43-35 lead at the break. Although Ruffin-Pratt missed all four of her field goal tries before halftime, she contributed nine assists.
Delaware led 9-8 before Rolle scored nine points in a 15-6 spurt that provided North Carolina with an eight-point cushion.
It was 29-21 before Delle Donne made two free throws and a 3-pointer in a 9-0 run that gave Delaware the lead. Seconds later, Megan Buckland drilled four straight high-arching 3-pointers to put the Tar Heels in front 43-32.
That tempered the crowd’s enthusiasm, but Delle Donne provided hope by hitting a long 3 at the buzzer.
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