By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There were many questions, almost too many, swishing around within an inquiring mind as Yaya Dunning walked slowly from the floor of the Carpenter Arena on the University of Delaware campus having fouled out of her final collegiate game, a 66-53 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, to answer.
The first, perhaps, was the easiest to answer and that was whether Baylor’s Brittney Griner, who is everyone’s college basketball’s player of the year, was a better basketball player than the Blue Hens’ Elena Delle Donne, who had just finished scoring 33 points against the Mountaineers.
The answer, quite simply, is that Griner is better at being tall, Delle Donne at playing basketball.
That is to take nothing away from Griner, who is what she is, which is an agile, talented young lady who happens to stand 6-8 in a game where 6-5 is considered tall. She uses her greatest asset as no one else ever has been able to do.
Delle Donne, on the other hand, is big at 6-5, but she does a little bit of everything that smaller, more agile players do while using her height and adding in a whole lot of scoring.
If one were to look at one moment in a terribly disappointing afternoon in which WVU blew a seven-point halftime lead to show just what Delle Donne is made of, it would be the way she blocked a close-in shot under the basket, knocking the ball out of bounds, then proceeded to steal the inbounds pass, following that up not much later with a basket and a foul.
With that question having been answered rather easily after having seen both players in action, there came a tougher question, and that was whether Delaware, and not West Virginia, would be advancing in this tournament if Mike Carey were not the most snake-bitten coach in America.
Was Delaware better, really, than the team Carey thought he would have on the floor, better than a team with both Yaya Dunning and Aysa Bussie playing down deep, with Akilah Bethel giving him time at an off-guard position and with Jess Harlee, a shutdown defender, guarding Delle Donne 1-on-1 as it should have been?
Many teams cannot survive one knee injury to a key player. Carey tried to survive three of them, one two days into practice to Bussie, his best player, and one a couple of games from the end of the season to the emotional heart and soul of the team in Harlee.
“First of all, I am proud of our players,” Carey said, beginning his post-game press conference. “With all the injuries and all the stuff going on, a lot of people would probably think I was in there yelling at them, but I wouldn’t. I was in there praising them.”
He understood the odds he was bucking.
Bussie’s absence cannot be underestimated, for she not only would have given WVU a pair of inside players, which would have taken all kinds of heat off the inconsistent outside shooting on this team, beefed up the rebounding and inside defense, but it also would have given Carey a chance to alternate his big players to give them rest and maybe keep them out of the foul trouble that Dunning seemed to be in all season.
And then there was the question that jumps out at you about whether or not Delaware would have been able to sustain its second-half rally if it didn’t have a sold out — and “souled” out — home crowd behind it, providing energy and encouragement.
The NCAA allows teams to play at home in its tournament as a financial consideration, but how much of a disadvantage has WVU found itself at playing against the home team two of the last three years at Baylor and Delaware?
How much did this matter? Delle Donne was asked after the game and her response will give you some idea of just how wrong this is.
“This was incredible. I wish we could play the whole entire tournament here,” she said.
Not only that but in each of those three years they wound up within the first two rounds facing a superstar player, Griner at Baylor, Delle Donne at Delaware and Nnemkadi Ogwumike against Stanford. Griner scored 30, Ogwumike 16 and Delle Donne had her 33 with seven rebounds, two assists and four blocks.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.