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Maryland vs. Delaware game hinges on Elena Delle Donne's status

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In what looked to be a matchup of ranked teams before the season started, Delaware gets another shot at Maryland, this time on their home court as they hope to exact revenge for last year's 85-76 loss in College Park. However, the Blue Hens may be attempting to win the biggest game on their schedule and secure the program's first-ever victory over Maryland without their star, Elena Delle Donne, who is listed as day to day as she continues to battle Lyme disease.


On Thursday night, when Brenda Frese's Terps (7-2, 1-0 ACC) travel to Newark, Del. to take on Tina Martin's Blue Hens (5-2, 0-0 Colonial Athletic), it may not be the second act of the home-and-home series the two coaches expected when they looked at this game on their schedule back in September.

And it's a shame, because Act One was a good one.

A look back

Last year, Elena Delle Donne led all scorers with 32 points, as Delaware lost a competitive matchup of undefeated teams, 85-76, at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md. It would end up as Delaware's only regular season loss and was one of the most impressive wins on Maryland's resume all year. And with the potential for it to be a solid non-conference resume booster for either team again this year, both teams and fan bases perhaps started to see the perks of initiating a little Mid-Atlantic rivalry, something that has been absent from the all-time series, which has been dominated by Maryland, 10-0.

Having the best player in program history, and arguably the second best player in the nation in Delle Donne, ready to go would give Delaware a great shot to notch that first ever win against one of the great programs in women's college basketball. Unfortunately, her status is up in the air, and your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not No. 11 and her 25-plus points per game will be out there giving the Alyssa Thomas and the Terps all they can handle, like she did last year.

Delle Donne still battling Lyme disease

The reason things surrounding Delle Donne are uncertain is because the senior forward/guard is battling Lyme disease, which has affected her on and off since the summer of 2008. Having the disease is rough to say the least. Here's how Delle Donne describes it in an excerpt from an espnW article by Graham Hays:

"You wake up and you're exhausted still; it feels like you didn't get a night's rest," Delle Donne said. "And then I have really bad muscle aches in my legs and arms, so my arms will be really heavy, it's hard to hold them up for a long period of time."

It is impossible to play basketball when the symptoms are at their worst and it is no wonder Delle Donne has only played in one game so far this season, scoring 22 points in a win over Providence.

Lyme disease caused Delle Donne to miss 11 games her sophomore year, but with that being said she still played in 22 that year, two-thirds of the season. And she battled through occasional symptoms last year to play in all 33 games for her team and lead the nation in scoring. One would think her track record would provide Delaware fans hope that missing six of seven games to start the season isn't a harbinger of a lost season to come.

But what better game to come back during than the toughest and most important one on your schedule?

Maryland is ranked No. 9/8 in the Associated Press and USA TODAY/ESPN polls respectively. Delaware has not faced another team that is currently ranked and likely will not face one for the remainder of the season. Talk about important. But Delle Donne's health comes first.

Delle Donne listed as day to day

University of Delaware women's basketball media relations contact Maggie Hayon was reached via e-mail Tuesday and here is the latest information she provided on the star's status:

"Elena is still listed as day to day. She has practiced the past few days, but sadly this is a tricky and unknown situation as things can change quickly. Unfortunately, her being able to play won't be known until the game is played."

That about says it. This is a game-time decision and both Maryland and Delaware have to prepare as such. Delle Donne sat out three games to start the season, played in one and now has sat out for three more. So who knows, maybe she plays in one in four again. Both teams can only hope she does; Delaware for obvious reasons, but Maryland too because they want to be battle tested before they face Duke. And they're only going to get better from playing against the best.

Key players:

Lauren Carra (Delaware)

It should also be said that Delaware defeating Maryland without Elena Delle Donne isn't out of the question, not if Lauren Carra and company have something to say about it. Carra, a senior guard, is averaging 14.9 points per game this season and has the signature moment of making a game-winning shot to beat Princeton on Dec. 9.

Maryland will have to watch out for Carra behind the 3-point line - she is currently shooting by far the most threes on the team - but they will also have to watch out for her in the rebounding game. The 5-foot-9-inch guard grabbed 13 boards in her double-double against St. Bonaventure and grabbed 9 against Georgetown. She averages 6.6 rebounds per game, which is good for third on the team - impressive for her height and position.

Maryland has already shockingly lost to St. Joseph's this year, and that game was also on the road. Delaware without Delle Donne is better than St. Joe's, so Maryland definitely can't relax if Elena is out. If they do, Carra could help orchestrate a major upset.

Tianna Hawkins (Maryland)

There has been good news and bad news for the Terp women this year. The bad news is that their best 3-point shooter (percentage wise) from a year ago, guard Brene Moseley, and their second best player from a year ago, guard Laurin Mincy, both are out for the season with ACL tears. Moseley they knew about before the season started and they've been without Mincy since she was injured in the fifth game of the season at Nebraska.

The good news? Forward Tianna Hawkins has arguably become the best player on the team, at least in the early going this season, filling the role of co-star to Alyssa Thomas left vacant by Mincy and filling the scoring void left by both Moseley and Mincy.

Coming into this season, Hawkins was known for her rebounding, as she averaged 9.1 boards a game last year and hauled in a program-record 24 in a game against Wake Forest. But for her to not only be averaging more rebounds per game so far this year at 9.6, but also be scoring a team-high 19.3 points per game, 7.3 higher than her previous career best for a season, is invaluable to the Terps.

It's not all that surprising that Hawkins has emerged as a great scorer late in her career; she's arguably the most complete offensive player on the team. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, she has great inside touch and a mid-range game to complement it. With five double-doubles in the first nine games of the season, she has more than stepped up to keep the Terps looking perhaps just as dangerous as they would if they still had Moseley and Mincy.

Alyssa Thomas (Maryland)

On the other hand, Maryland's expected star and reigning ACC Player of the Year, forward Alyssa Thomas, is averaging 3.1 points below her career high of 17.2 per game, set last year during her incredible sophomore campaign. But with Thomas it isn't all about scoring. The junior can fill up the stat sheet in four different categories: points, rebounds, assists and steals. She has four double-doubles of her own this year, including a triple double against George Mason that was the second in program history.

Thomas also isn't one to shy away from big moments, having come up clutch a couple times in late game situations for the Terps last year. Look for the ball to be in her hands down the stretch if this is a tight one. She scored 23 and added 9 rebounds the last time Maryland and Delaware met, to counter Delle Donne's 32 and 7. Interesting to note however that Thomas was not the Terps' leading scorer in that game. Mincy was with 25, meaning if Delle Donne doesn't play both teams will be without their leading scorer from their most recent meeting.

Things to watch

Maryland has the best rebounding margin in the nation based on games played through Dec. 16. Without Delle Donne, Delaware's top two rebounders are 6-foot-2-inch senior forward Danielle Parker at 10.1 rebounds per game and Carra. The two centers on the Blue Hens, junior Kelsey Buchanan and sophomore Stephanie Leon, don't see a whole lot of playing time. At 6 feet 5 inches, Delle Donne is the tallest player on Delaware and is taller than anyone on Maryland save for 6-foot-7-inch senior center Essence Townsend, who is also out with an ACL tear. It is going to be critical that Delaware find a way to keep up with Tianna Hawkins, Alyssa Thomas and Alicia DeVaughn on the glass if they are without Delle Donne.

Maryland is strong in many other categories as well, which is why they are the No. 9/8 team in the nation. If Delaware, who entered the season ranked No. 11/10, wants to compete, especially if they are without Delle Donne, they will have to capitalize on their strengths. Therefore defense will be the focus for them.

Delaware has to put their 27th ranked field goal percentage defense to the test against Maryland's 5th ranked field goal percentage. The Blue Hens are also 16th in the nation in 3-point field goal defense, with their opponents shooting just 22.9 percent from beyond the arc. Without Moseley and Mincy, the Terps are worse off than they would be in the 3-point department, so that could be something Delaware takes advantage of. However, they have to watch out for Xavier transfer Katie Rutan, who is shooting 41 percent from downtown and for whom 3-pointers (16) account for more than half of her made field goals (25).

Delle Donne's status key

All in all, if Elena Delle Donne is back you may have to throw away the underdog label for the Blue Hens and just call this one a fair fight, especially considering it's in Delaware. Even if she's not 100 percent, she's still likely the best player on the court for either of these two teams. Without Delle Donne, you still have to think this is an intriguing game and should expect Maryland to get Delaware's best effort of the season.