Every journey begins with one step. The Kentucky Women began this journey several months ago. You could even say that it began years ago. When Matthew Mitchell was hired by Mitch Barnhart it was with one goal – championship. Not just the SEC championship, mind you, but the whole thing. Barnhart wants a women’s trophy in the case, and preferably several. But you have to get that first one. Standing in the girls’ way is none other than Elena Delle Donne, the Delaware version of Brittney Griner with a twist. Delle Donne can shoot the rock from anywhere.
You would think that playing Baylor earlier this year would prepare Kentucky for what they will see today. Not happening. Delle Donne has most of Griner’s height, but she has a long range jumper that is dead on to go with it. She moves with the ball or without and has Anthony Davis’ skills in the paint. Kentucky will not stop her, they can only hope to contain her. Deny her the ball maybe, but she is going to get hers. That means Kentucky is going to have to play shut down defense on the rest of the entire Delaware team. That, they can do.
When Mitchell was asked about how to contain Delaware, he said this:
"I think that they have really done a good job of putting a great team together and certainly Elena’s a very big part of their scoring. But I just am so impressed with how well they play together. She does not do it all by herself. They have a really, really good team chemistry. They play very well together. Everybody plays a key role. They have another couple kids - two or three kids - that are right there at double digits in scoring. To me, I think you’re making a big mistake if you put it solely on one player. She’s very important obviously to what they want to do because she’s so talented, but we’ll be really trying to make this more about our team and the Kentucky team and how we do what we do well. I think that’ll be very important to make our tempo a factor, our defensive pressure a factor. We’re preparing more for the Delaware team that she’s a big part of."
Delaware commits the least amount of turnovers of any team in the country. They take care of the ball. They commit only 11.7 TO’s per game and their assist-to-turnover ration is 1.1, a seriously low number. Lauren Carra and Danielle Parker follow Delle Donne in scoring for Delaware, and Carra also shoots the three. Their only losses came at the hands of Maryland, Duquene, and Georgetown, and only one of those came at home. Delaware has had the benefit of playing their first two games of the tourney on their home court as well. This time, they have to travel the same as Kentucky.
Look for this game to grind a bit. It will not be a thing of beauty. Expect Kentucky to try and make it an ugly game and make defense the priority. If DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker can keep Delle Donne shooting outside and let the guards harass her at every turn with speed, then UK can get Delaware off-balance and keep the game at Kentucky’s pace.
Kentucky knows what to do, they know how to do it, they simply need to execute and work their game plan. If shots fall, this will be Kentucky’s game to lose. If they do not, they are going to have to wrestle it away from Delaware, and that is not easy to do.
Jennifer O’Neill and A’Dia Mathies need to fill up the basket and take advantage of size and speed on the wings for Kentucky. Delaware runs their offense through Delle Donne, they run their defense through Delle Donne. She is their greatest asset and their Achilles Heel. Stop her and the rest may fall. But if you stop everyone else, she cannot beat you alone. Kentucky in the end 70-62.