In a game that Kentucky led nearly the entire game, the Wildcats hung on to defeat the fighting
Blue Hens Delle Donne’s 69-62 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This marks UK’s second straight trip to the Elite 8, and third in the past four years. The Cats were able to absorb the 33 points from Delaware All-American Elena Delle Donne and some serious foul trouble, and held on for dear life in the waning minutes of the game. Jennifer O’Neill scored a team high 19 points on 4-9 shooting from behind the arc. The KSR gang of Matt, Drew, Hayley and I were live and in person with zero sleep here in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and I may or may not be hallucinating at this point.
The Cats came out hot from the start, not intimidated by Delaware or their superstar Delle Donne. Kentucky led 41-27 at halftime, with Delle Donne scoring 17 points and no other Blue Hen scoring more than just four points. The Wildcats proved today it takes a true and complete team effort to succeed in March, not just a singular great player. UK had 10 players score at least two points for them today….Delaware on the other hand: had just five players score a basket.
A’dia Mathies had 16 points in today’s game, giving her over 2,000 career points in her life as a Wildcat. She is just the 5th player in UK history, male or female, to accomplish that feat, further solidifying her into Kentucky fame. It wasn’t easy as many Hens were draped all over her from the get go, but she proved her versatility by scoring both inside and out when needed. With just a 5’9 stature, Mathies proved her ability to work in the paint, and Delaware Coach Martin applauded her effort calling her a “great post up player”.
Questionably the biggest plus of today’s game? The fact Kentucky had solid control the whole time without an active presence of junior center DeNesha Stallworth. The first team all-SEC member got in foul trouble early, and only finished with four points for the game. Many thought she would have to have a large impact to combat Delle Donne in the paint, but the Cats did a great job of pushing Delaware’s offense much farther back than usual, getting the Hen players out of rhythm.
After having a comfortable lead virtually the entire game, the Cats nearly gave it away at the end with missed free throws and bad shots as the Hens cut it to a two point game with less than four minutes remaining. All the momentum in the building was shifting towards Delaware, as this big time UConn crowd was rooting for the upset. Luckily for Kentucky fans, junior guard Kastine Evans was there to save the day, nailing a HUGE 3-pointer to give the Wildcats some breathing room and sqauash the Blue Hen run. Time and time again, Evans knows how and when to step up in clutch situations to bail the Cats out. When asked if he was surprised Coach Mitchell just said “no…that’s Kastine. She’s a winner”.
A player most casual UK Hoops fans most likely haven’t heard of? Jelleah Sidney. The redshirt sophomore from New York barely got any playing time during the regular season, only featured during blowout wins for Kentucky. After Samantha Drake got suspended going into the NCAA Tournament, Sidney has had to step up and play some serious minutes for the Wildcats. She has answered the call for Coach Mitchell, playing extended minutes and while she only scored two points tonight, her defensive assignment on Elena Delle Donne was played with heart, intensity, and her three offensive rebounds helped the Cats a lot. Shouts to you Jelleah.
A recap of how we all got here? Matt, Drew, Hayley and I departed from Lexington around 10 p.m. last night. After an excrutiatingly long car ride that included many Vines, weird music, and a puking incident from yours truly, we arrived here in Bridgeport a few hours before tipoff. I survived a near bladder explosion, put on my suit and tie ala Justin Timberlake, and willed our Cats to victory. With the day off tomorrow, we’ll probably venture into NYC #bigcitylivin
Kentucky will play the winner of top seeded Connecticut and four seed Maryland on Monday night in the Elite 8. Obviously a Terrapins win would benefit the Cats, but UK has had their eyes on revenge against the Huskies all season. We shall see…Huskies are leading 21-13 at the moment.