BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – For the first time in University of Delaware history, the Blue Hen women’s basketball team has advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 and will face the University of Kentucky Saturday at noon at the Webster Bank Arena.
No. 15 ranked Delaware (32-3), a six-seed in the tournament, defeated West Virginia and 13th-ranked North Carolina in the first two rounds last week at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The second-seeded and No. 7 ranked Wildcats (29-5) posted wins over Navy and Dayton in Queens, N.Y. last week to advance to their second straight Sweet 16 appearance.
In the other NCAA Regional game Saturday, No. 3 ranked Connecticut (29-4) will take on No. 12 Maryland (24-7) 30 minutes following the Delaware game. Both games will be televised live in ESPN.
The winners will advance to the regional final Monday at 7:30 p.m with that winner earning a berth in the NCAA Final Four next week in New Orleans.
“After I wake up from this dream I’m in...,” remarked Delaware 17th-year head coach Tina Martin in opening her press conference Friday afternoon. “We’re really excited to be here and our kids are thrilled. I don’t know what else to say other than the fact we’ve played hard. Our team has played really well and we feel we deserve to be here. We can’t wait to play tomorrow and we’re looking forward to putting our best foot forward.”
The Blue Hens are led by three-time CAA Player of the Year, All-American, and National Player of the Year candidate Elena Delle Donne, who registers an average of 25.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. The 2012 NCAA scoring leader, she currently ranks No. 2 among all NCAA Division I women's players.
Fellow seniors Lauren Carra and Danielle Parker also lead the team statistically. Carra puts up 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while Parker contributes 8.9 points and 8.7 rebounds. Parker needs seven rebounds to tie and eight to break Colleen McNamara’s school record of 1,063 career rebounds, set from 1991-95.
“It is exciting to experience this first trip to the Sweet 16,” Parker commented. “Doing something to make history for the University and the program is everything that all of us could ever have dreamed of. We’re going to do what we have to do in our game against Kentucky, but we’re going to enjoy this time.”
Classmate Trumae Lucas also shared her excitement of being a part of the Sweet 16, but mentioned the need to get to work and take care of business on the court.
“We don’t take the off-court excitement with us onto the court,” stated Lucas. “We’re happy to be here, but once we get on that court, we know it’s all about business. We definitely have fun doing it, but we can’t let that excitement interfere with how we play in the game.”
Kentucky is looking for its second consecutive and fourth overall spot in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats have assembled one of the most successful seasons in UK history, with a school-record of 29 games won this season.
Senior A’dia Mathies, also a candidate for the National Player of the Year award and a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year
leads the Wildcats in scoring at a clip of 16.1 points per game, three-point field goals made (70) and three-point field goal percentage (.427).
“Kentucky has a really tough pressure defense,” said Delle Donne. “We have faced some throughout this tournament, but none like theirs. We have to take care of the basketball and limit our turnovers. Also, offensively, they get the ball and run, so we have to run in transition with them, not celebrate made baskets because they will get it out and go.”
Saturday’s matchup between Delaware and Kentucky is the second all-time. Delaware holds the 1-0 advantage with the Blue Hens victorious over the Wildcats, 86-70, in 2006. Delaware stunned then No. 20 Kentucky in the first round of The Odwalla Classic in San Francisco.
Tickets for all three games are sold out, but will be featured on ESPN in addition to ESPN3/Watch ESPN. Beth Mowins (play-by-play), Doris Burke (color analyst) and Holly Rowe (sideline) will handle the broadcast for ESPN.