Thursday's late game

Delaware tops GMU women, 53-44

Elena Delle Donne, defended by GMU's Amber Easter, left, and Ashleigh Braxton (20), scored 25 points.
Elena Delle Donne, defended by GMU's Amber Easter, left, and Ashleigh Braxton (20), scored 25 points. (Tracy A. Woodward/washington Post)
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By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

For most of the game, George Mason was the scrappier team, making all the hustle plays, grabbing all the loose balls and snagging a bunch of offensive rebounds. And for a while, it appeared that the Patriots collectively would be enough to defeat Delaware's standout, Elena Delle Donne.

But eventually, all the effort they expended, particularly trying to slow down Delle Donne, cost them. And as they wore down, their shots refused to fall.

George Mason missed 12 consecutive shots late in the game, squandering an 11-point lead, and lost, 53-44, to Delaware on Thursday night at Patriot Center. It was the Patriots' first home loss of the season.

"We didn't shoot as well in the second half," said Ashleigh Braxton, Mason's leading scorer with 11 points. "In the second half, we didn't hit anything basically. I think that's what changed the momentum.

"When they're making their run, if you can't hit shots to counteract that, you kind of dig yourself in a hole."

For most of the first half, it was a one-woman show for Delaware (9-4, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association). Delle Donne, the national high school player of the year who bolted from the University of Connecticut after two days of summer school to return home to Delaware, took last year off from basketball to play volleyball for the Blue Hens. Her brief time away from the sport hasn't seemed to affect her game.

Delle Donne ranks third in the country in scoring (25.2 points per game) and accounts for 38.7 percent of her team's scoring. She scored seven of Delaware's first 11 points as the Blue Hens jumped to an 11-5 lead.

George Mason (7-6, 0-2 CAA), which starts four players 6 feet and shorter, doesn't really have a player who can match up with the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne, whose versatility allows her to play any position. But the Patriots did a nice job defensively on her and made it difficult for the Blue Hens to get the ball to their standout player.

"They were running a defense that was basically anytime I touched the ball someone else was sprinting at me along with my man being there," said Delle Donne, who had 12 of her team's 20 points at halftime.

"They were putting a lot of ball pressure on our guards. Not even just denying me but it was hard for [Delaware's guards] to get the ball up the court with someone in their face like that."

Mason, which went into halftime up 27-20, extended its lead to 31-20 on baskets by Amber Easter and Brittany Poindexter. But after Delaware switched from its man-to-man defense back into the zone it had played early in the game, the Patriots struggled offensively.

Following Easter's jump shot, which put Mason in front 39-38 with 9 minutes 20 seconds to play, the Patriots didn't make another field goal until Braxton sank a jump shot with 29 seconds left.

"I thought that some of the energy that we were using on defense definitely affected us on offense," Mason Coach Jeri Porter said.

Delaware and Delle Donne proved too much for Mason in the end. Delle Donne finished with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and also had 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.

"It's hard to stop her," Braxton said. "She's a great player. Her size and her ability to move with her size, it's phenomenal."

The Patriots, who were picked to finish last in the CAA preseason poll, already have nearly doubled their win total from last season. Although they have opened the conference season with two losses, at least one coach isn't counting them out.

"This is a team with talent," Delaware Coach Tina Martin said. "This is a team that can win games. They're going to continue to get better and better."

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