NEWARK, Del. — It was quite a long wait, but the University of Delaware women made the most of their homecoming.
Facing a one-loss University of Central Florida team that bested its opponents by an average of 18.3 points per game, the Blue Hens surged late before falling in their home opener 71-60, Sunday evening. It was Delaware’s third straight loss, but it will enjoy six more games at home after opening the season with eight straight on the road.
“This was my seventh starting lineup, just trying to find chemistry, and I saw them compete at a level I hadn’t seen yet,” Blue Hen head coach Natasha Adair said. “Is it because we had eight straight games on the road? I don’t know but we were the only team in Division I to have not played a home game. They showed fight and that’s what I’ve been asking of them all year.”
The Blue Hens (3-6) never led in the game and were on their way to a blowout loss before outscoring the Knights 19-9 in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Abby Gonzales led Delaware with 18 points, while junior forward Samone DeFreese finished with 10.
UCF (7-1) bolted out of the gate with a 10-2 start. The Blue Hens got five points right back with the first of Gonzales’s three treys and a DeFreese layup, but the Knights widened their lead again to 14-8 at the end of the first quarter.
The visitors maintained that advantage through the second before breaking the game open with a 10-0 run to the close the half. Their defense employed a stiff, full-court trap that forced several turnovers and a few transition baskets. Delaware faced a 37-20 deficit at halftime. It committed 19 turnovers in the first half, compared to just six in the second.
“It was just things you don’t do against pressure,” Adair said. “You don’t dribble it down the side, you don’t turn your back. They were laning out on all the passes, so I think it was just more of us controlling that pace and that tempo by valuing the ball.”
The offense on both sides took over in the third, combining for 46 points, but UCF increased its lead to 62-41.
The Blue Hens unleashed a defensive trap of their own in the fourth quarter. Freshman point guard Paris McBride, who played nearly the entire second half, complimented that success by scoring seven of her eight points in the period. She bolted up and down the floor with authority, driving her 5-foot-4 frame to the hole against defenders nearly a foot taller than her.
“When you have a freshman point guard out there, she’s thrown to the wolves — that is the hardest position on the floor,” Adair said. “We’ve all been freshmen and to see her in the fourth quarter still fighting, it just lets us know that she will eventually be a great leader for this program.”
The Blue Hens made it a 64-48 game with 6:39 left to play, but then neither team scored for nearly three minutes.
“We can’t spot them 20-plus points,” Adair said. “We cut it down to 11, but then we were 16-for-27 from the free-throw line. Those are teaching moments. You make your free throws and take away the turnovers, it could’ve been a different outcome.”
Delaware managed to get as close as 10 before time ran out. Gonzales said she was happy to reward the fans’ support with a strong showing at the end.
“It really helps us out and gets our energy up,” she said. “It’s our homecourt so we didn’t want to let up at all.”
Kornelia Wright scored a game-high 24 points for UCF, while Sydnee McDonald and Tolulope Omokore finished with 15 and 11, respectively.
The Blue Hens don’t play again until they host Gardner-Webb on Dec. 18. Adair was happy to see her players challenged before a much-deserved break.
“All of this non-conference slate is preparation for CAA play, and there’s no one in CAA of this caliber,” she said. “This is a team with veterans that we just played today. Once we’re battle-tested, I can’t wait to see where our team is in January.”