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UK Hoops not changing heading into Sweet 16 showdown with Delle Donne, Delaware

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Matthew Mitchell goes through the game plan at UK's first practice at the Bridgeport Regional host site. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell goes through the game plan at UK's first practice at the Bridgeport Regional host site. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- No one in the country plays the same style of basketball as the Kentucky women's basketball team. That comes with advantages and disadvantages.

When preparing for Sweet 16 opponent No. 6 seed Delware (32-3) and the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year, Elena Delle Donne, the Wildcats know their primary concern.

It's not Delle Donne.

While Kentucky undoubtedly has watched hours of tape on Delaware since the Wildcats advanced past Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, it can only show them so much. The Cats can't prepare for how Delaware will handle a team like them, specifically because there isn't another team like Kentucky.

"We're going to go out there and play the way we play regardless, but as far as scouting against who they've played that they plays like us, I haven't seen it yet," said sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill. "We mostly scout them on their stuff."

That's why Mitchell has demanded Kentucky not change anything in this tournament. With so little time to prepare in between games, it's impossible to thoroughly scout each individual team. So Mitchell tells his team to focus on itself and for players to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.

That should be more than enough to win.

"We really just want to focus on us and how we can play at our best," said sophomore guard Bria Goss. "As far as wrinkles, nothing too specific, just doing what we do that got us here is the main focus.

"Of course Elena Delle Donne is a great player, but one player shouldn't be able to beat our team, so we have to go into the game with the mindset and mentality of what we can do as Kentucky."

That's easier said than done.

While Kentucky has been able use its "40 Minutes" style of play to its advantage all season long, the intensity and energy that Mitchell demands out of his players isn't easy to endure day in and day out. A lot of players might want to play basketball at Kentucky because of its success, but it's not for everyone.

"Some of our workouts aren't easy either, like the way we play," said O'Neill. "It's tough. I won't lie and say it's easy. Not everybody can play like this. That's why he recruits the players he recruits, so that we can come out and play the way he wants us to play."

Despite the demands that come along with playing in-your-face defense for a full 40 minutes, Kentucky players have grown accustomed to the rigors and the daily grind. It's part of the gig. It's also what sets them apart from other programs across the country.

"It's not the easiest, but we do take pride in it because if you think the men's and the women's side, who else does our style of play, which is all up in your face all 40 minutes?" said Goss. "There's not another team in the nation that does that."

The Wildcats have developed a sense of pride in their identity and unique style. As they advance deeper and deeper into the tournament, they  see the fruits of their labor as the hard work continues to pay off.

That labor starts all the way back in the summer months as UK prepares their bodies for everyday stress that comes with playing Mitchell's style. The motivation that keeps them going in the summer months are moments like this weekend and beyond.

"Knowing that it's going to pay off at this point in the season," said O'Neill of how UK stays focused during summer workouts. "Just having goals like going to the Final Four and winning the national championship, knowing what you want to do beforehand so that you have motivation going into those workouts."

Now, those moments are rapidly approaching, and to be able to advance, Kentucky is going to have to continue to be the team it has been all season long. That will be no easy task when it comes to the Blue Hens.

Mitchell says he's looking to force 25 turnovers and score 25 points off of those Delaware miscues. He wants his team to score one point per turnover forced. So far, that's been the M.O. of his team. In Kentucky's 34 contests, they've forced 816 turnovers while scoring 851 points off takeaways.

Kentucky will have the tough task of creating those opportunities against a team that averages just 11.7 turnovers per game - third fewest in the nation. Meanwhile, Kentucky has forced opponents into 24 turnovers per game going into Saturday's Sweet 16 matchup with the second-best turnover margin in the country (+8.5).

Something's got to give.

"We're going to try to change that the best we can," said Mitchell. "The thing that you have to try to figure out is that we've maybe played more teams like them then they've played teams like us is what you hope is an advantage here. It will be interesting."

Delaware has been able to take care of the ball all season long for two reasons. The first is that the Blue Hens haven't faced many teams like Kentucky that rely defensive intensity and turnovers to win. The second is that they have one of the most versatile players in the nation in Delle Donne.

When the Blue Hens fine themselves in trouble against pressure, what do they do?

"They throw it to Delle Donne a lot," said a laughing Mitchell.

Delle Donne has the ability to help break the press and also catch, turn and shoot to alleviate defensive pressure. That will be Kentucky's toughest test Saturday as Delle Donne brings in her 25-points-per-game average to Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

Yes, Delle Donne is likely to be the difference in the game if Delaware is to prevail over Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but Mitchell isn't looking to change anything now. He's going to stick with his guns and dance with the girls who brought him this far for the third time in four seasons.

"Just because of his faith and belief in us," said Goss. "He has the opportunity to coach a great team with a lot of talent. Talent doesn't always get you far, but our work ethic might get us to that next level, so that's really what he wants us to focus on."

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