Danny Johnston, Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Elena Delle Donne knew she had officially arrived in the national spotlight when her roommate Meghan McLean woke her up early Monday morning.
"Kevin Durant just tweeted you," McLean said.
Delle Donne didn't stay in bed long after that.
"I almost had a heart attack," she said. "I was like, 'All right, I'm up, let's go!'"
Such is the life these days for Delle Donne, whose name has been used by President Barrack Obama along with the Oklahoma City Thunder star in the last week.
The nation's leading scorer added to her growing notoriety with a 39-point NCAA tournament debut in Sunday's 73-42 win over Arkansas-Little Rock. She was trending on Twitter by the time her performance was finished.
Delle Donne entered the tournament averaging 27.5 points per game for the third-seeded Blue Hens (31-1), who have won 21 straight games. The former national high school player of the year didn't disappoint in her coming-out party on national television, hitting 14 of 27 field goals, 5 of 8 3-pointers and also grabbing 11 rebounds.
She did all that in just 30 minutes, leaving the game with 9:17 remaining and having outscored the Trojans 39-30 on her own at that point.
Next up for Colonial Athletic Association champion Delaware is a second-round matchup with 11th-seeded Kansas (20-12) on Tuesday night. It's a game the Blue Hens prepared for with a difficult early season schedule that included games against Penn State, Wake Forest and Maryland — one they'll have to stay focused on with a potential third-round game with second-seeded Tennessee looming.
Don't expect Delaware, which has used the motto 'Eyes Forward' all season, to look ahead. And don't expect the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne to use the word "I'' over "we" or "us" — despite all the attention she's received.
"We're soaking it in, but we're focused," Delle Donne said. "Obviously, all that attention is great but we're here to win basketball games and that's really all that matters."
It's that selfless mentality that has endeared Delle Donne to her teammates over the past three years, even as she's averaged nearly 19 shots per game this season — almost a third of the Blue Hens total shots.
"Not only does it keep us happy, but it makes us feel like we're involved, which we are," Delaware junior Danielle Parker said. "It helps us in knowing that we are part of the team and that we can take shots when we're open."
The Blue Hens expect to need all of their parts against the Jayhawks, who advanced with a 57-49 win over former Big 12 rival Nebraska.
"They are very athletic, and I think they are playing their best basketball," Delaware coach Tina Martin said. "When you look at our team, our kids are going to have to play really smart and we are going to have to defend as a team."
The win was Kansas' first in the NCAA tournament since 1999, and the tournament appearance is its first in eight seasons under coach Bonnie Henrickson.
The Jayhawks, who lost six of their last eight games to close out the season after leading scorer Carolyn Davis tore her ACL, looked anything but nervous on Sunday. Angel Goodrich scored 20 points, and Chelsea Gardner added 15 points and 16 rebounds in the win over the Huskers.
"We've always played together, but we had to change it up a little when Carolyn (was injured)," Kansas senior Aishah Sutherland said. "Everyone had to step up. As long as we keep playing together and keep our focus, we'll be good."
Next up for Kansas is Delaware and Delle Donne. The Jayhawks are no stranger to facing one of the nation's top players, having lost twice this season to No. 1 Baylor and star center Brittney Griner.
Henrickson had her first look at Delle Donne when she was in junior high and said "she just keeps getting better and better." Henrickson said multiple Jayhawks players will have to guard Delle Donne, just as they did against Griner.
"They run her off every screen there is in basketball," Henrickson said. "James Naismith would be proud."
The Blue Hens feel as though they have plenty more to prove to the rest of the country. And they can't think of any better way to do that than against a Big 12 team such as the Jayhawks.
"We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder," Parker said. "We do have something to prove to ourselves and to everyone else."
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