A Look Back: Homecoming Remains Special to Elena Delle Donne
USA Basketball is streaming select national team exhibition contests every Tuesday (women) and Thursday (men) through July 9. This week’s women’s national team exhibition re-air is from July 27, 2016, when the 2016 USA National Team earned an 84-62 victory over France at the University of Delaware ahead of the Olympics. The game will be streamed 8 p.m. EDT at USAB.com/live and on USA Basketball Twitter and Facebook pages. During the re-air, Elena Delle Donne will recall her favorite memories from the homecoming game for her at UD against France.
Four years ago, after the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s National Team had been together for less than a week and played one exhibition against the USA Select Team (a game that will be re-aired in two weeks), the USA squad traveled from Los Angeles to Newark, Delaware, for an exhibition game against France. Tina Charles finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists, and the U.S. used a potent second half performance to seize an 84-62 victory.
The home of the Blue Hens also was home to Elena Delle Donne during her collegiate career. It was where during her four years, she helped lead UD to a 104-32 record (.765 winning percentage), the 2013 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, 2012 NCAA second round, a pair of WNITs, two Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles and two CAA tournament crowns.
“I was so nervous,” recalled Delle Donne recently. “I think that is the one game in my career that I was so, so nervous for. That was that moment, where I was shaky. I had heard France was really good. So, this was all coming together at a crazy time, and all of my Delaware fans were there, so I wanted to put on a good show.”
The French squad had improved since the USA’s 86-50 gold medal victory at the 2012 Olympics, and the U.S. knew it was in for a tough game.
For the first 20 minutes.
“I remember that first half was neck and neck, France kept hanging in,” stated Delle Donne. “I would feel like we would pull away, but then they just would hang in and hang in. Then, after halftime, I’m pretty sure Geno had some words with us, and we made a really concerted effort to get the ball in the paint.”
The U.S. trailed 22-17 at the end of the first quarter and held a slim 32-31 lead at halftime.
“We came back in the locker room, and I think we were only up one, but we felt like we were playing well,” Diana Taurasi said that night. “A couple mistakes here. A couple turnovers there. A couple bad shots and you look up and it’s a close game. So, we felt good going into the locker room. We knew if we took care of a couple details that we could kind of break it open.”
The USA scored the first five points out of the halftime break and midway through the third quarter extended its lead into double digits. By the end of the period, the USA had pulled ahead by 17 points, 63-46. The Americans outscored France 21-16 in the fourth quarter, including five points from Delle Donne in the final 1:27, something USA head coach Geno Auriemma orchestrated for Delle Donne and her fans.
“He was so nice when we went to Delaware,” remembered Delle Donne, who finished with 10 points and two rebounds. “He made sure I started. That was huge. I hadn’t started yet, and I was able to start the game. And then, I think there were about two minutes left, the game was almost over and he calls a timeout and he’s like, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get E some shots.’ So, he drew up a play, we executed it perfectly. Catch (Tamika Catchings) set a major screen, and then BG (Brittney Griner) cleaned it up, and I came off it and was like, ‘I’d better let this thing fly.’ Like, he just set up this whole play (for me). It went in and then we go back on defense, we come back and everybody’s like ‘run it again.’ So, we run it again, and I scored again. I think it was an and-one and the crowd’s going crazy. So, for him to call a timeout like that to get me some shots, that was really nice of him.”
The U.S. shot 61.3% from the field in the second half (19-of-31), and its lead grew as large as 26 in the final minute.
The U.S. squad finished its exhibition series with a 4-0 record before heading to Rio de Janeiro, where the squad rolled through its eight opponents by a margin of victory of 37.2 points per game and hit the century mark a record six times in eight games en route to claiming the USA’s sixth-straight Olympic gold medal.