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Evans' late 3 carries Kentucky past Delaware and into Elite Eight

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Kentucky celebrates its 69-62 Sweet 16 win over Delaware. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky celebrates its 69-62 Sweet 16 win over Delaware. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Of the 69 points that Kentucky used to defeat Delaware in the Sweet 16, 69-62, none were bigger than the three Kastine Evans provided with 2:21 left.

With the Wildcats clinging to a two-point lead after Delaware had fought all the way back from 16 points down, UK head coach Matthew Mitchell called a play to try and get the ball in the hands of star senior A'dia Mathies' somewhere near the basket. It was well-defended, and the player guarding Evans doubled down on Mathies leaving Evans wide open at the top of the key.

As Evans broke free off the stagger screen, only two things went through her mind.

"I just had to catch and shoot and then after that, I just got back on defense because there was still plenty of time on the clock," said Evans. "We had to keep playing still only up by five."

The basket provided Kentucky with a huge lift, but it also served as the final haymaker that spelled the end of Delaware's comeback bid.

"I thought Kastine hit the biggest shot of the game in that 3-pointer," said Delaware head coach Tina Martin. "That really, to be honest with you, broke our back from the standpoint of giving them enough cushion at the end of the game that that were able to sustain it and finish the game off."

Though it was only a five-point lead, it felt like much more after Elena Delle Donne had willed her Blue Hens into a one-possession game at 62-60. It was a shot that not only hurt Delaware's chances, but gave UK a much-needed boost to overcome the late Delaware rally.

Evans had struggled throughout most of the game finding her shot. She was just 2 for 8 from the field with five points before the big shot, but her assistant coaches continued to will her on from the bench to give her confidence the rest of the way.

When she hit it, not one person on the Kentucky bench was surprised.

"When Kastine came off the stagger at the top, I thought, 'I've seen this before,' " said Mitchell. "I felt really good about it because she's unbelievable in those moments. She's made so many of those in her three years, so I was not for one second surprised."

Though the play was designed for Mathies, she was glad that it was her teammate Evans taking the shot in a clutch situation.

"Kastine makes big plays. She hustles every second that she's out on the court," said Mathies. "You can just tell how confident she is in herself. We're glad that she made that 3 and took the 3."

While Evans was huge in that moment, Mathies came up big all day long along with fellow guard Jennifer O'Neill. Mathies become the fifth player in program history to reach the 2,000-point plateau with her 16 points, adding nine rebounds.

Mathies got most of her buckets in the interior and in transition, but O'Neill was getting her buckets on the perimeter. She knocked down four 3-pointers in the game on her way to a team-high 19 points.

The win, however, took a total team effort. Going up against a player like Delle Donne, the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year who averaged 25.9 points per game going into Saturday's matchup, it was going to take a collective effort to get the job done.

Throughout the course of the game, Samarie Walker, DeNesha Stallworth, Jelleah Sidney, Azia Bishop and for even Mathies for a few possessions could be found guarding the Blue Hens' do-it-all forward.

The task was made even more difficult as Stallworth picked up two early fouls and found herself in foul trouble throughout the entire game, pressing Sidney and Brittany Henderson into important minutes. While Delle Donne led all scorers with 33 points, she was just 11 for 23 from the field and turned the ball over five times after averaging less than one per game for the entire season.

"She's a great player, so we just wanted to keep fresh bodies on her," said Mathies. "Just getting her out of her comfort zones and just trying to put as much pressure on her because we know as she goes, her team goes. We did a great job, I feel like, of just making her shoot tough shots and not just getting easy baskets."

With Stallworth out of the game so early, the pressure of guarding Delle Donne and providing an offensive post presence shifted to Walker. It was tough to see her teammate on the bench, but Walker knew it was up to her to carry the load.

"I was a little heartbroken because that's like my other half on the court," said Walker of Stallworth. "I definitely felt I had to step up on defense and get some rebounds."

Walker committed just one foul in 34 minutes while scoring eight points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds while making life difficult for Delle Donne on both ends of the floor.

The Wildcats struggled mightily to grab rebounds in the second half, affording the Blue Hens the opportunity to get back into the game. Early in the second half, Delaware outrebounded the Wildcats 14-0 as the Hens tore into the lead.

Mitchell could be spotted on the sideline displaying his disgust with his team as Delaware outscrapped his Wildcats. In timeouts, he stressed the importance of rebounding to his players. The light bulb finally went off late in the second half, and just in time.

After Evans' big shot, Delaware had multiple opportunities to cut the lead back to one possession. They had three offensive rebounds in one sequence before Mathies pulled down consecutive defensive rebounds. She would then go to the line, hit both free throws, and put the game out of reach.

It wasn't easy, but Kentucky did just enough to pull out the win and overcome Delaware's best. That's all Mitchell could as for of his team as they head back to their second straight Elite Eight date with No. 1 seed Connecticut on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"You want to win. You want to keep going," said Mitchell. "I just thought we did a pretty good job of finally at the end getting some pretty important boards that were hard to get. It was really tough though because you want it so bad. I really credit the players for doing what was necessary to get the victory."

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