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March 29, 2013

'Strong desire' to reach Final Four motivates UK women

If there's no pressure, then there are no diamonds.

But headed into a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament matchup with sixth-seeded Delaware, the Kentucky women's basketball team is playing not for shining diamonds, but clipped nets.

"It's desire more than pressure," to reach the program's first-ever Final Four, Mitchell said. "It's just a strong, strong desire."

Before the Cats can set their sights on the Final Four, they'll need to get through this weekend in Bridgeport, Conn. And first up is a meeting with the Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens.

The second-seeded Wildcats (29-5) and Delaware tip off Saturday at noon on ESPN, and UK will be looking to hand the Blue Hens (32-3) their first loss since Dec. 20.

Delaware has won 27 in a row, thanks in large part to superstar Elena Delle Donne. The 6-foot-5 guard/forward is averaging 23.3 points per game this season, and chipped in 33 points and eight rebounds last week to help the Blue Hens upset North Carolina.

But Mitchell shied away for the suggestion that shutting down Delle Donne means shutting down the entire Delaware offense.

"She does not do it all by herself," Mitchell said. "They have a really, really good team chemistry… .

"All I'm saying about Elena is that she is one of the most talented basketball players on the planet and she is very, very good, and I would say that this time of year and (in) this kind of atmosphere, she gives them a chance to beat anybody. She's that good."

One factor working in UK's favor is its familiarity with players like Delle Donne, and good teams. The Cats are 4-3 in games against the five Sweet 16 teams they've faced.

Kentucky hasn't shied away from top talent all season and don't expect that to change Saturday.

"I have no doubt we can compete as far as what's happened up to this season," Mitchell said. "I think we've proven we can play at a high level, now we just have to go do it."

UK cruised past the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament by an average winning margin of 17 points per game, but the Cats' biggest issue last weekend was off the court - until it almost literally splattered onto the floor.

Several UK players came down with a stomach bug while the team was in New York City last weekend, and junior Samarie Walker actually left the court during the Cats' win against Dayton to throw up in a trash can.

"I thought the players battled through some tremendous adversity in the second round with our illness, our stomach virus that we had going through the team and just played a fantastic game against a very good Dayton squad," Mitchell said. "So we've been able to get back home and, as far as we know going into practice (Thursday), everyone's feeling well and is full-go for practice."

With the Cats healthy, all their attention is on Delaware and advancing past the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. And if UK is going to accomplish that feat, its senior leader A'dia Mathies will need to come to play.

Mathies said she intends to play her game and not get caught up in a showdown against Delle Donne, and though Mathies averages 16.1 points per game, and tied a career high with 34 in the second round against Dayton, she realizes she will need help.

"I'm not trying to match (Delle Donne) play-for-play, but I will give my best effort," Mathies said. "I know she will, and as a team we're going to give our best effort. I'm not really worried about that."

The mood around UK's team isn't worrisome, nervous or pressured, but instead confident. Mathies says if the Cats play their game, they'll go to the Final Four in New Orleans.

"If we give our best effort, then we should be able to advance to the Final Four, but it's not pressure," Mathies said. "We're just going to go out there and do what we're used to doing."


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