NEWARK, Del. - Minutes after her Delaware women's basketball team upset North Carolina Tuesday night, coach Tina Martin spoke to the sold-out Carpenter Center crowd.
"Blue Hen fans, you rock!" Martin said over the public-address system. "Let's go to Bridgeport."
The Blue Hens indeed are on their way to Connecticut for an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 meeting with Kentucky on Saturday.
Sixth-seeded Delaware (32-3), which will be making its first Sweet 16 appearance, fought back from a 10-point, early-second-half deficit and stunned third-seeded North Carolina, 78-69.
In the most historic few days for the Delaware women's hoops program, the Hens beat the Tar Heels (29-7), an Atlantic Coast Conference team, after disposing of West Virginia from the Big 12 on Saturday. Both victories were in similar style: Trailing at halftime, Delaware then surged.
After describing the win over North Carolina as "the greatest victory in Delaware's sports history," Martin said, "we are so excited, so elated. This team has the hearts of lions."
Playing her final game on her home court in front of 4,653 fans, Elena Delle Donne added to her recordsetting All-America resumé. The 6-5 senior scored 33 points to surpass the 3,000 career milestone at 3,006, eighth in NCAA history.
Delle Donne's eight rebounds helped Delaware outrebound North Carolina, 43-35.
"I don't think I've wanted anything more than [winning] this one," Delle Donne said. "This was an awesome game and I'm thrilled with what happened."
The last time there was this much excitement in the First State may have been when Joe Biden was elected vice president, or maybe when former Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco led the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl championship in February.
Biden, a UD alumnus, attended the game and visited the team's locker room after the game.
"Vice President Biden has been at games before," Martin said. "He gave everybody hugs and words of encouragement. He said he told President Obama to pencil us in [for the Sweet 16]. If there's any way he can pencil himself in for Connecticut [he'll do it], but he has a lot of important things to do."
For Delaware, winner of 27 in a row and ranked No. 15 nationally, to beat North Carolina, Delle Donne needed support from teammates. She received it in major league style from fellow seniors Trumae Lucas and Danielle Parker.
Lucas, a 5-8 guard who transferred from Florida, scored a career-high 20 points. Several times she fearlessly drove the lane to score important layups. The 6-2 Parker topped all rebounders with 13 and contributed 14 points.
Addressing Delaware's second-half comeback, Martin said: "The key was our execution, getting Elena the ball in the middle of the floor and letting her make reads. Our guards were much more aggressive and our offensive rebounding [was better]."
Delaware overcame North Carolina's advantage on three-pointers (7-for-19 compared with 2-for-9) with a decisive edge from the foul line (26-for-32 compared with 14-for-20).
Martin said Carolina "tried to dictate a very aggressive basketball game."