UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky hopes sure-handed Delaware loses its grip

University of Delaware 6-5 senior forward Elena Delle Donne, middle, laughed with teammates as Delaware practiced for their NCAA Sweet 16 matchup against UK in the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Ct., Friday, March 29, 2013. Delaware plays the University of Kentucky Saturday in the first game of the NCAA Bridgeport Regional semifinals. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
University of Delaware 6-5 senior forward Elena Delle Donne, middle, laughed with teammates as Delaware practiced for their NCAA Sweet 16 matchup against UK in the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Ct., Friday, March 29, 2013. Delaware plays the University of Kentucky Saturday in the first game of the NCAA Bridgeport Regional semifinals. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Math is a funny, fuzzy thing.

Going into the NCAA Tournament region semifinals against Delaware, second-seeded Kentucky leads the nation in forced turnovers.

The felines' foes cough the ball up some 24 times a game on average.

UK's opponent Saturday rarely turns the ball over. The Blue Hens average just 11.7 turnovers a game. They have 12 games this season in which they turned it over in the single digits.

So mathematically, something has to give.

"We're going to try to change that number a little bit if we possibly can," Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We're going to try to make that a little bit higher."

In fact, he said UK's goal on Saturday in the Bridgeport Region semifinal, is to force Delaware into 25 turnovers and then score at least 25 points off of those.

Mitchell believes that's the winning formula.

If Kentucky is able to do it, it would be a first this season. The Blue Hens have turned the ball over 20 or more times just twice this season, and still never more than 22.

Both of those times, the Hens were without 6-foot-5 phenom Elena Delle Donne, who shoots nearly 50 percent from both the field and from three-point range.

She is the key to what they do.

Exactly how does Delaware manage to avoid being turned over?

"They throw it to Delle Donne a lot," Mitchell said of the star who has 28 turnovers in 29 games this season, including just one miscue so far in the NCAA Tournament.

"Seriously, she's just so big that you can throw a lot of passes up to her that she can just catch and shoot. Then also, people let them walk the ball up the court and lob the ball on the entry. So that will be our thing."

But it's been Kentucky's thing all season: making opponents uncomfortable and play at such a fast pace that they make mistakes they don't normally make. The fewest number of turnovers UK has forced all season was 15 against Missouri and Alabama, but the Cats won both.

"This all really goes back to doing the things we've been doing," sophomore guard Bria Goss said. "They can take care of the ball at an alarming rate, that's great, but they haven't played anyone like us, either."

The only other team in the nation to force 800 or more miscues this season was North Carolina, whom the Blue Hens beat in the last round of the tourney, turning the ball over just nine times.

The Tar Heels were forcing opponents into nearly 23 mistakes a game before being ousted by Delaware.

But UK star guard A'dia Mathies isn't concerned about that.

"We don't really worry about numbers, we just play our game," Mathies said. "That's pretty much how it is. We just want to make teams uncomfortable and do things they don't want to do, speed them up. We'll see how it plays out."

The Delaware coach and players admitted that it will be interesting to see how those numbers work out in this game at the sold-out Webster Bank Arena on Saturday.

"They have a really tough pressure defense," Delle Donne said. "We have faced some throughout this tournament, but none like this."

Coach Tina Martin said the game will come down to the Blue Hens handling the pressure.

"They are in your face and up on you," she said of Kentucky (29-5), which is averaging 25 points off of turnovers this season. "Their turnovers turn into points very quickly, so we're going to have to take care of the basketball."

Kentucky has forced double-digit turnovers in 150 straight games, and since UK put in Mitchell's "40 minutes of dread" defensive style, the Cats are 51-5 when they force 25 or more mistakes.

Because the Blue Hens (32-3) haven't faced an opponent who plays the way UK plays, Mitchell isn't sure what to expect, but he hopes the answer is clear at the end.

"We've maybe played more teams like them than they've played teams like us, which you hope is an advantage here."


Kentucky vs. Delaware

What: NCAA Tournament Bridgeport Regional semifinal

When: 12:04 p.m.

Where: Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WLAP-AM 630

Records: Kentucky 29-5, Delaware 32-3

Seeds: Kentucky No. 2, Delaware No. 6

Series: Delaware leads 1-0

Last meeting: Delaware won 86-70 on Nov. 24, 2006, at Odwalla Classic in San Francisco.


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