A'dia Mathies finishes her career with 2,014 points, second most in school history. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky women's basketball will never be the same. It may get better, or it might get worse, but Matthew Mitchell's UK team will never again have A'dia Mathies.
The No. 2 seeded Wildcats fell to the top-seeded Connecticut Huskies in the Elite Eight Monday night, 83-53, in a game that never really went as planned.
It certainly wasn't the way that Matthew Mitchell hoped to see his senior and the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year walk off the court for the final time.
"I just hate we performed the way we did tonight and sent her out this way," said Mitchell of Mathies. "I have to make sure that the contribution that she made and the tremendous impact she made doesn't get lost on a real tough 40 minutes for us."
The contributions are countless.
Mathies was the 2013 AP SEC Player of the Year and Co-Player of the Year as voted by the coaches as the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons in the conference since 2006. She is the first UK basketball player (men or women) to accumulate 2,000 points, 600 rebounds, 300 steals and 300 assists in a career. She is the program's all-time leader in steals with 317. She ranks in the top 10 on 13 different UK career lists.
Her arrival at Kentucky marked the beginning of a monumental turnaround of the program. After being picked last in the SEC before her freshman season, the Wildcats have gone 111-30 (.730), including a 64-3 mark at home, during her time wearing UK blue. She helped lead the Wildcats to their first SEC regular-season championships in 30 years, advanced to the Wildcats to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and along with fellow senior Brittany Henderson is part of the winningest class in program history.
Those are just the highlights. The list goes on much longer.
To make a long story short, Kentucky is not the Kentucky of today without her.
"Just for Kentucky women's basketball, we have an opportunity to be disappointed on a night like tonight," said Mitchell of Mathies. "Not too very long ago we wouldn't even have had a chance to be in a game like this. The disappointment is great and we're really, really upset to have played this way and to have been beaten this way, but A'dia's been a major factor in the resurgence of our program, so we're grateful to her."
Mitchell's gratitude to Mathies can probably never properly be fully expressed.
Since Mathies came to Kentucky, Mitchell has seen his program rise to national prominence as UK reached three Elite Eights in Mathies' four years. During that time, Mitchell has received a contract extension that has brought great financial security to him and his family and great support to his program.
Mathies has deeply affected Mitchell's life and his program for years to come.
"Being able to coach her clearly changed my wife Jenna's and my life," said Mitchell. "We've been real successful at Kentucky from the standpoint of having some stability and having a chance coach there, and you only get to do that if you win games. A'dia's helped us win a bunch of games, so I'm grateful to her."
Mathies fought hard to fight back emotion, and as usual, being the tough competitor that she is, she was stone-faced after her last game as a Wildcat. Though the loss and the taste of defeat was fresh in her mind, she still was able to sense her pride in all that she's been able to accomplish while wearing the Blue and White.
She also knows that she helped change the program into a better place than when she first arrived.
"I feel like it's been a great turnaround," said Mathies. "I'm glad that I can leave here and look back that Kentucky is a national powerhouse now. You know, we've got McDonald's All-Americans coming in left and right and just great people who care about you. I'm just glad that I came here and I'm glad that I didn't go anywhere else."
Mathies didn't go down quietly in her final game, although she saw fewer minutes than she would have liked. Early foul trouble gave her fewer opportunities on the floor and limited her ability to be aggressive on the offensive end. Yet she rallied to finish with 14 points - 11 after halftime - to lead her team as she has done so many times throughout her career.
Now, Mathies looks forward to a career in the WNBA where she will likely be a first-round draft pick. Whatever she chooses to do for the rest of her life, Mitchell just wants her to be happy.
"I hope she has much success like my hope is for everyone," said Mitchell. "I hope she's very successful in whatever she chooses to do, and at some point all of these players will not be able to play basketball and it be very meaningful in their lives as far as how they are defined as basketball players. A lot of times, we look at these kids as what their value is as a player.
"I hope she has a very good career as long as she wants to play basketball, but I really hope she's benefited from her time at Kentucky. I hope she is able to have a really successful life in whatever she chooses to do."
The night was tough all the way around on Monday, and there wasn't much success to be found. Mitchell said the UConn whipped Kentucky in every way imaginable in the Elite Eight, and the score suggests that was true. He also said that he wouldn't let one loss define his program and that going forward the future is still bright, though the Cats will have to fill a major void.
"We will not be deterred because of one tough, tough game that we played tonight and didn't do well in," said Mitchell. "We will march forward and we have some good kids right now and we'll keep working at it and keep showing up. I believe at some point it will happen, or I don't need to be sitting up here if I don't."
But Mathies never will again.
She finishes her career with 2,014 points, giving her the second most in program history. She is just the second player in the history of the program to reach the 2,000-point plateau. But in terms of impact on Kentucky women's basketball and the team that she'll walk away from with her head held high, her contributions are second to none.
Women's basketball - The Wildcats earned their second straight and third trip to the Elite Eight in the last four years after an impressive team effort over one of the nation's best players in senior Elena Delle Donne and the No. 15/16 Blue Hens. - Ten players scored at least two points, led by redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill with 19 points and senior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies with 16 points and season-high tying nine rebounds. - The Wildcats have won a school-record 30 games and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a school-record fourth consecutive season. - For the second straight season, the second-seeded Wildcats will meet the top-seeded Huskies with a trip to the Final Four on the line. - Mathies charted her 2,000th-career point against the Blue Hens, becoming just the fifth men's or women's basketball player at Kentucky to reach the accomplishment.
Gymnastics - No. 19 UK earned a NCAA Gymnastics Championship bid last Monday. - The Wildcats will compete at the Morgantown, W.Va. regional on Saturday, April 6. - Kentucky is making its ninth consecutive and 25th overall NCAA Regional appearance. - UK will join top-seeded Michigan, No. 2-seed Nebraska, No. 3-seed Illinois, as well as host West Virginia and North Carolina seeded fifth and sixth respectively.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team posted a road win over Lipscomb last week before falling in a non-conference tilt to No. 5 Tennessee last Friday. The game against Tennessee did not count towards Southeastern Conference team standings. UK took down Lipscomb 8-1 before falling to UT 6-0. - UK got a strong performance offensively against Lipscomb. Griffin Joiner led Kentucky, going 2-for-3 with a solo home run and a RBI double. The homer was Joiner's team-leading eighth home run of the season. Ginny Carroll and Lauren Cumbess also had strong nights at the dish with Carroll posting a 3-for-4 night with two RBI and Cumbess blasting her fourth roundtripper of the season. Cumbess ended the game 2-for-4 with two RBI, while Christian Stokes also had two hits. - Ellen Weaver and Kelsey Nunley combined for a strong effort in the circle against Lipscomb. Weaver threw the first two innings of the game, allowing one unearned run on one hit with two strikeouts. Nunley came in to start the third inning, keeping the Bisons scoreless the rest of the game on just two hits with five strikeouts.
Baseball - Kentucky posted a midweek 8-2 win over Marshall, before opening the series with Georgia in a 10-inning thriller. UK got a rally in the bottom of the 10th inning that resulted in a two-out walk from Max Kuhn with the bases loaded to give UK a 3-2 win. - On Saturday, Georgia took a 7-3 lead before UK mounted a furious rally that fell short in a 7-6 loss. UK rebounded on Sunday in its third straight rubber-match win in 2013, 5-0, behind a dominating clutch performance from Corey Littrell. - During the four-game week, UK had a 2.19 ERA in its 37 innings, with Austin Cousino pacing the club with a .500 average (7-for-14), with four doubles, a triple and four RBI. - Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett leads the team with a .364 average, owning three doubles and four RBI. Junior J.T. Riddle has a .359 mark with six doubles, one triple, one homer and 17 RBI, with a 14-4 walk-strikeout ratio and four steals. A.J. Reed has hit .340 with four doubles, two triples, six homers and 28 RBI, with Cousino batting .315 with eight doubles, one triple, four homers and 20 RBI, stealing four bases.
Men's tennis - Kentucky went 2-0 on the weekend, collecting wins in its final SEC home matches of the season over No. 31 Alabama (7-0) and No. 32 Auburn (4-1). - Senior Anthony Rossi became just the 15th player in Kentucky tennis history to collect 100-career wins as he won both of his weekend matches in straight sets. - Tom Jomby and Kevin Lai knocked off the fifth-ranked doubles team in the nation 8-6, on Sunday as the Wildcats improved to 18-6 overall, and 6-3 in SEC play. - UK welcomes No. 7 Ohio State to Lexington on Wednesday afternoon for another top-10 match at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center, the third top-10 showdown this season in Lexington.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team lost 6-1 at No. 8 Alabama on Friday and 4-0 on Sunday at No. 22 Auburn. - On Friday, 24th-ranked Nadia Ravita defeated No. 26 Mary Anne Macfarlane of Alabama in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5. - Kentucky will return home on Friday to host No. 19 Vanderbilt.
Swimming and diving - Kentucky junior diver Greg Ferrucci earned three top-five finishes at the 2013 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships last weekend, accounting for all 45 points scored by Kentucky to pace UK to a 22nd place finish. - Ferrucci earned career-best finishes at the NCAA in all three diving events, finishing fourth place on the 1-meter springboard (403.05), 3-meter springboard (423.15) and platform (418.30). - John Fox made his NCAA debut this weekend, finishing 22nd, 23rd and 27th in those same events respectively.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team placed tied for 10th in the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate in Awendaw, S.C., shooting 44-over-par for the tournament. - Junior Stephen Powers led the way for the Wildcats, fining 2-over-par for the invitational and recording his highest finish of the year, tying for fifth. The top-10 finish marked the fourth of the year for the Naperville, Ill., native and the third of the spring. - Kentucky returns to the links April 8-9 at the Gary Koch Invitational in Tampa, Fla.
Track and field - Rebecca Famurewa set the UK freshman record with a mark of 53.22 meters/ 174 feet 7 inches to win the Texas Relays. Famurewa's mark was also fourth best in school history. - Hiruni Wijayaratne won the women's 1500 meters with a PR 4:34.94 at the Oliver Nikoloff Invitational. - Sean Keane won the Nikoloff 800 meters with a time of 1:51.52. - Michelle Canterna missed the school record pole vault by half an inch as she cleared 3.85 meters/ 12'07.50" to take fourth at the Nikoloff. - Kayla Parker's PR 110H time of 13.20 was good for fifth place at the Texas Relays, and was the second fastest time in UK history. - Keith Hayes claimed fifth in the 110H with a time of 13.66, which was also good for No 2 in the school record book. - Chelsea Oswald and Cally Macumber ran two of the four fastest 5,000-meter times in Kentucky history on Friday at the Stanford Invitational.
Monday, April 1 Women's basketball vs. Connecticut - 7:30 p.m. (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
Tuesday, April 2 Baseball at Louisville - 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 3 Men's tennis hosts Ohio State - 2:00 p.m. Softball at Louisville - 6:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Murray State - 7:00 p.m. Friday, April 5 Track and field at Florida Relays - 10:00 a.m. (Gainesville, Fla.) Women's tennis hosts Vanderbilt - 12:00 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 7:00 p.m. Baseball at LSU - 8:00 p.m. Track and field at Bellarmine Invitational (Louisville, Ky.) Women's golf at Rebel Intercollegiate (Oxford, Miss.) Saturday, April 6 Track and field at Florida Relays - 10:00 a.m. (Gainesville, Fla.) Track and field at Crimson Tide Invite - 11:30 a.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Men's tennis at Vanderbilt - 12:00 p.m. Softball at South Carolina - 4:00 p.m. Gymnastics at NCAA Regional - 6:00 p.m. (Morgantown, W. Va.) Baseball at LSU - 7:30 p.m. Volleyball at KIVA Collegiate Tournament (Louisville, Ky.) Track and field at Bellarmine Invitational (Louisville, Ky.) Women's golf at Rebel Intercollegiate (Oxford, Miss.)
Sunday, April 7 Softball at South Carolina - 1:00 p.m. Baseball at LSU - 2:00 p.m. Women's golf at Rebel Intercollegiate (Oxford, Miss.)
Kentucky looks to advance to its first Final Four in an Elite Eight rematch with Connecticut on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It would already be an intriguing matchup for Kentucky, the Bridgeport Regional's No. 2 seed, to face the region's No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Huskies' home state.
Kentucky just defeated the fifth all-time leading scorer in women's college basketball history in Delaware's Elena Delle Donne while snapping the Blue Hens' 27-game win streak. Meanwhile, Geno Auriemma's UConn squad just dismantled Maryland 76-50 in its regional semifinal.
A one vs. two matchup in the Elite Eight is about as exciting as it gets when it comes down to the top teams in the regional battling for the right to earn a Final Four berth.
For Connecticut, it would be its sixth straight trip to a national semifinal. For the Wildcats, it would be the first in program history.
Intriguing enough... but it gets better.
Samarie Walker, a junior forward for the Wildcats who transferred from Connecticut to be closer to home and play for Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky, will get a chance to compete against her former program.
Jam-packed with storylines, this matchup has one more important one that just might pique your interest: This is the second straight season that UConn and UK have tangled in a regional final as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Mind blown? Hopefully not because you'll need to tune into this one Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN as Kentucky looks to accomplish something the Huskies have made seem routine. Since the beginning of the season, Mitchell and his team have been focused on taking the necessary steps to making this a Final Four-caliber team by adopting their "40 Minutes" mantra which has led to program record 30 victories.
Ironically, and as fate would have it, all that stands between Kentucky and that goal is another 40 minutes of basketball. And UConn. Again.
Understanding that much could be learned from last year's matchup with the Huskies even before Kentucky learned its NCAA fate, Mitchell showed his team game film from last year's Elite Eight game. He showed the Cats two crucial four-minute clips where the game got away. He didn't want to see that that same type of collapse happen again.
"It was a three-point game coming out of the under-16 media (timeout) in the second half, and they really went on a big run," said Mitchell. "When you go back and look at that film, they did a lot of good things, but the thing they did better than us during that eight-minute period was to rebound."
Mitchell said that Connecticut also played with a much greater competitive spirit in the second half, which allowed the Huskies to pull away when Kentucky had pushed the Huskies to the brink in the first half.
While Kentucky seeks its first Final Four appearance and sees Monday as a great opportunity, the players still look back to last season's game as one that got away.
"We watched (the tape) as a team and it was more so a missed opportunity," said senior guard A'dia Mathies. "We were there in the first half. A mental lapse and like a couple four-minute segments where it wasn't like they just poured on points. It was little by little.
"We believe that if we stay focused that can definitely happen this year."
The Wildcats have been focused on Kentucky, and that's exactly what Mitchell wants. While they will prepare for Connecticut just like every other team they've met so far in the NCAA Tournament, UK needs to continue to do what's brought it this far. Kentucky's 40-minute style has helped the Cats wear down teams and outlast them.
At this point, even though Kentucky's next opponent is Connecticut, Mitchell just wants his team to be its best self.
"I think the opponent in the NCAA Tournament for us has been for us to try to play our best," said Mitchell. "That's who we've been trying to measure it against.
"Now, our opponent is outstanding and excellent and you should be playing someone like that to go to the Final Four. I think anybody we would play in this round was going to be really good and have our respect."
With last season's experience in their back pocket, the Wildcats feel more prepared this time around with a stronger supporting cast.
"We got very close. Last year is last year, but we realize we have another opportunity to take it to the next level," said Mathies. "We got great players in addition to our team last year such as DeNesha Stallworth, Janee Thompson and Jelleah Sidney. We're just looking forward to playing the game tomorrow."
And Jennifer O'Neill - who sat out last season while recovering from a foot injury - has taken over the role of starting point guard to help solidify Kentucky's dynamic back court along with Mathies.
Though Kentucky is completely confident in its ability to beat the Huskies and finally "punch through" to the Final Four, to borrow a phrase from Mitchell maybe not everyone else is. Maybe not everyone else ever cares.
The networks and media have made a big deal covering Kentucky's last opponent Delaware because of Delle Donne's success over the past four years. After the game, much of the discussion was about her career and the game that she played.
After Connecticut's win, the discussion shifted to the Huskies moving on to yet another Elite Eight for the opportunity to advance to yet another Final Four. Very little was Kentucky mentioned the major media outlets.
But for Kentucky, that's just fine with them. It's been that way most of the season.
"I think we are under the radar," said O'Neill. "I think a lot of people don't expect us to beat UConn. I was watching ESPN and they weren't really talking about us or anything like that, but that's fine. We don't mind playing under the radar because we know what we're capable of. We know that if we come out to play and play our best that it's hard to for people to stay with us and stop us."
Kentucky is battle-tested as well. Already this season Kentucky has faced No. 1 Baylor and four other teams that reached the Sweet 16. So when Connecticut brings its style of play, one similar to the one that the Wildcats use themselves, they should be well prepared.
"Because of the way that we play, that's something that we face during practice as well," said O'Neill. "You talk about them putting pressure on people, but we play the same way. We play with a lot of ball pressure and are in the passing lanes. I don't really think it's going to be a challenge because it's something we face every day in practice. A lot of us have grown as players because of the way that we practice."
A while back, Kentucky may not have been ready to handle this pressure and the atmosphere they will see at Webster Bank Arena in front of roughly 8,000 UConn fans. Mitchell has no doubt that Monday his team will be ready, not scared, to take Kentucky to the next step.
"We just keep showing up. We keep having these experiences," said Mitchell. "If scared is in our team's mind, it's not happening tomorrow. I don't think that's where we are at all. I think this team has competed well against some really tough teams. If our team's lacking confidence, then that's just been a failure on my part to get us ready for this point in time.
"I don't think that's really as big of an issue as maybe it would have been four years ago and so I think we're making progress in the area of feeling like we belong and we're a team that has a chance to punch through to the Final Four."
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."
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."