Friday, December 2, 2011


TigerBlog sat on the Princeton women's basketball bench, the one on the same side where the visiting team warms up before a game and shoots in the first half.

It was more than an hour before tip-off between Princeton and No. 24 Delaware, and the building still hadn't opened it doors for the fans. Instead, a handful of Delaware players were on the court shooting around.

TB focused only on one, and she was hard to miss. And she hardly missed, for that matter.

Elena Delle Donne, all 6-5 of her, calmly worked on her shot, swishing one after another after another. TB was sort of keeping track for awhile, and he saw her make probably 10 straight from three-point range, not so much as touching the rim on any of them. And she was doing it effortlessly, sometimes while chatting with her teammates.

More than just the fact that she was making shots, she brought with her a star quality that is impossible for any casual observer to miss. It's part of the hype of knowing that the player who averages more points per game than any other - male or female - in college basketball was bringing her nationally ranked team into your building.

In some ways, it was more mysterious than if LeBron James or Michael Jordan was on the other team, because at least superstar men's players are on television all the time. In Delle Donne's case, she had been at Jadwin once, two years ago, and that was the only time TB had ever seen her play.

Watching her last night, TB couldn't help but think that this is what it must have been like when Bill Bradley played for Princeton back in the mid-1960s.

Actually, TB first started thinking about that because of her scoring average, nearly 31 a game, which is basically what Bradley averaged at Princeton.

The more he thought about it, the more he figured it was the perfect comparison, two players who are either the best or in the top three or so in college basketball, playing at schools not from the top power conferences.

In addition, they're about more than just the points they score, or at least TB assumes from everything he's heard and read about Bradley that he was. Like Bradley, Delle Donne can get everyone on her team involved, can dribble, can pass, is a dead-on shooter, can create her own shot and can defend.

She's a matchup nightmare for any opponent, because she can score from anywhere, inside or out. She's tall enough that only the most athletic post players could stay with her, and shorter guards have no chance.

Defensively, she blocked five shots, but more importantly, she got into the heads of the Princeton shooters as they got close to the basket.

Her range on her shot is outstanding, but the most ridiculous thing about her is the way she reached down for an extra gear when she needed it most, like when she pulled in that ferocious offensive rebound (if you were among the 1,824 in the building last night, you know exactly which one TB is talking about) or when she hit the turnaround shot from the elbow as the shot clock was experience (that was more Dwyane Wade than Bill Bradley).

She finished with 32 points on 13 for 19 shooting, adding nine rebounds, five blocks and three steals.

As for the Tigers, they played super hard and somehow only lost by 11 on a night when Delaware shot 62.3%, turned it over only four times in the first half and had two separate 14-0 runs.

Princeton was left to wonder what it might have been had it not been for the first of those two 14-0 runs, the one that opened the game and dug a hole for the Tigers that was insurmountable.

The Tigers will get another chance to find out, as No. 21 DePaul comes to Jadwin for the next home game, Dec. 13. Before then, there are games at UMBC tomorrow and Navy a week from today.

After the game in the interview room, Delle Donne came across as genuinely nice, appreciative of the fuss over her, soft-spoken and down-to-Earth.

As TB thought about it, he wondered if there really are 23 teams in the country better than Delaware. He asked himself if Delle Donne - who, by the way, has never played in an NCAA tournament; Delaware has been to the WNIT in both of her first two seasons - could possibly take the Hens to the Final Four or maybe even all the way.

Certainly Delaware won't play many games - or maybe any - where it doesn't have the best player on the court. And if its complementary players play like they did last night, then it's not just a one-woman show.

Like basically everyone else who was a Princeton fan last night, TigerBlog went into the game expecting two things: a Princeton win and 30-35 points from Delle Donne.

And, judging by the people he's spoken to today, TB came out of it like everyone else, wildly impressed by Elena Delle Donne.

It's not just any player who can be compared to Bill Bradley.

And remember how that worked out back in 1965.


Ken Perry '50 said...

As I closed out Tiger TV of the game, my reaction was, "Just like a Bradley performance". Then I read your blog this morning.

Anonymous said...

Another parallel between EDD and BB is that both originally committed to standard, big conference powers, UConn in the case of EDD and Duke in the case of BB.

The fact that each abruptly changed their decision adds to their narratives. EDD burning out on basketball humanizes her in my opinion, reflecting that playing at that level is a daily grind which wears on you.

BB switching to Princeton because he thought that it was a better platform from which to earn a Rhodes Scholarship -- and then winning one three years later -- well, it just doesn't get any better than that as far as story-telling goes.