BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Kastine Evans had no idea that Delaware had just cut Kentucky's once-cushy 16-point lead to a mere two points.
She had no clue. So she didn't hesitate.
She didn't blink as she let go of the ball.
"I didn't have a chance to really think about the shot; I just shot," Evans said of the three-point basket that helped the Cats beat Delaware 69-62 Saturday and advance to the Elite Eight for the second straight season and third time in four years.
It's a good thing Evans didn't blink. The junior guard from nearby Salem, Conn., might have missed the most important three-point shot of her career, one that helped UK get enough distance, 65-60 with 2:21 to play, to hold off the charging Blue Hens.
"That really broke our back from the standpoint of giving them enough cushion at the end of the game," Delaware Coach Tina Martin said. "Give credit to her. She hit the big shot when they needed it."
Kentucky had bigger stars on Saturday at Webster Bank Arena. There was Jennifer O'Neill with her four three-pointers, 19 points and four assists, including the pass to Evans.
Senior A'dia Mathies had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Cats, who will get a rematch of last season's region finals with Connecticut on Monday night at Webster Bank Arena with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
But it was Evans who had the biggest shot.
"She's unbelievable in those moments," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I was not for one second surprised. I was elated and very happy. We needed a bucket, just mentally and emotionally needed a bucket bad."
Delaware had scored eight straight points leading up to the shot, capped off by an Elena Delle Donne 15-footer that she willed into the basket to cut the Cats' lead to two points, 62-60, with 2:47 to go.
The Blue Hens, who had trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, had come all the way back from the brink and were poised to possibly pull ahead on their next possession.
"Kentucky was quicker and stronger, but there was so much fight in us," Martin said of her team, which had won 27 straight games coming into Saturday. "We clawed our way back into it."
They did it with rebounds and hustle plays, something UK had a monopoly on in the first half, outrebounding the Hens 24-11, including 13-3 on the offensive boards to give the Cats a 41-27 lead at the break.
But Delaware turned the tables in the second half, securing 14 straight rebounds before Kentucky (30-5) even had one. Hustle plays were turning into hustle points and more looks for Delle Donne, who had a game-best 33 points.
"We just absolutely stopped rebounding," Mitchell said. "We gave them an opportunity to stay in the game and that is a scary proposition when you have a player that's extremely hard to stop."
Down the stretch, Kentucky did nothing to help itself by missing several layups and key free throws. Delaware (32-4) kept doing what it had to do to stay within striking distance.
"Before the game, we talked about poise, patience, perseverance," Mitchell said. "I just kept trying to keep my poise and keep my cool because we were missing so many good shots."
One person who did keep her cool was Evans, who nailed the biggest shot of her UK career.
When asked what she thought as the ball fell through the net, forward Samarie Walker smiled. "Whew. Thank you, Jesus."
Kentucky was able to make enough big plays at the end to play another day and be one win away from the first Final Four in program history.
"Those are just the shots you have to take," said Evans, who finished with eight points, as did Walker, who added a game-high 11 rebounds, including a key defensive board after a Delle Donne three-point attempt rimmed out with 30 seconds to go.
"We did a pretty good job, finally at the end, getting some really important boards that were hard to get," Mitchell said. "It was really tough, though."
Kentucky vs. Connecticut
What: NCAA Tournament Bridgeport Regional finals
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.