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AP Basketball Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) – The Kentucky Wildcats and their “40 minutes of dread” were too much for Elena Delle Donne and Delaware.
Jennifer O’Neill scored 19 points and A’dia Mathies added 16 to help Kentucky hold off the Blue Hens 69-62 on Saturday in the Bridgeport regional semifinals, bringing to an end the stellar career of Delle Donne.
It’s the second straight season that Kentucky (30-5) has advanced to the regional final. The Wildcats, who already have a school record for victories, lost to Connecticut last season by 15 points.
Delle Donne had 33 points for Delaware (32-4) and finished her career as the fifth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history with 3,039 points. She passed former stars Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Maya Moore on Saturday.
She finished well short of Jackie Stiles’ all-time scoring mark of 3,393 set at Southwest Missouri State from 1998-2001.
There’s little doubt that Delle Donne would have broken it had she not missed 22 games in her career. The 6-foot-5 star who is averaging 26.6 points in her career sat out six games this season with a reoccurrence of the symptoms of Lyme disease that forced her to miss a dozen games two years ago.
She did all she could to take Delaware to the regional final. Trailing by 14 early in the second half, the Blue Hens cut their deficit to 62-60 with 2:47 left on a jumper by Delle Donne that touched nearly every part of the rim before dropping in. That shot moved her past Moore and sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
But Kastine Evans calmly responded with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 65-60. Jaquetta May had three chances at putbacks on the other end, but couldn’t convert.
Delle Donne exited with 10 seconds left and had a long embrace with coach Tina Martin.
The second-seeded Wildcats will play the winner of Connecticut and Maryland on Monday with a trip to New Orleans and the Final Four on the line.
Delle Donne had little help in the first half as her teammates struggled from the field. The senior forward did pretty much everything she could to help keep the Blue Hens in the game. She scored 13 straight points as Delaware only trailed 17-15 midway through the first half. Then Kentucky took over scoring the next 10 points. Bria Goss got the run started with a jumper and capped it with a layup that made it 27-17.
The teams then traded baskets the rest of the half with O’Neill hitting a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to make it 41-27.
It was the third straight NCAA game that the Blue Hens trailed at the half. They were able to rally against West Virginia and North Carolina at home and tried their best to pull off another, but the Blue Hens fell just short.
Lauren Carra had a big second half and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds to provide a second offensive threat for the Blue Hens.
Delaware, which had never made it past the second round before this season, played its first two games at home in front of a loud raucous crowd that included Vice President Joe Biden.
While Biden didn’t make it up to the game Saturday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did. He graduated from Delaware where he met his wife Mary Pat. Christie was wearing a yellow Delaware fleece and took pictures and signed ticket stubs for fans.
The governor’s trip to the game was a lot longer than planned. Trenton was supposed to host the regional until the NCAA moved it in November citing a new law that allowed gambling on college sports in New Jersey. The late switch didn’t seem to impact ticket sales, as Saturday’s session was sold out with nearly 8,600 fans expected to attend each session.
The two teams had only played once before, with Delaware winning 86-70 in 2006.
KENTUCKY 69, DELAWARE 62
DELAWARE (32-4): Delle Donne 11-23 11-11 33, Parker 3-9 0-0 6, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Richards 0-0 0-0 0, Carra 3-5 3-4 10, May 1-6 0-0 2, Buchanan 0-0 0-0 0, Lucas 3-9 5-5 11, Leon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-53 19-20 62.
KENTUCKY (30-5): Walker 3-8 2-3 8, Stallworth 2-5 0-0 4, O’Neill 6-14 3-6 19, Mathies 5-13 5-7 16, Evans 3-9 0-0 8, Thompson 1-2 2-2 4, Pinkett 0-1 0-0 0, Sidney 1-1 0-0 2, Goss 2-6 0-1 4, Henderson 1-1 0-0 2, Bishop 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-62 12-19 69.
Halftime_Kentucky 41-27. 3-Point Goals_Delaware 1-6 (Carra 1-1, Lucas 0-1, Delle Donne 0-4), Kentucky 7-24 (O’Neill 4-9, Evans 2-5, Mathies 1-6, Pinkett 0-1, Bishop 0-1, Goss 0-2). Fouled Out_Carra, Lucas. Rebounds_Delaware 40 (Carra 10), Kentucky 35 (Walker 11). Assists_Delaware 7 (Lucas 3), Kentucky 9 (O’Neill 4). Total Fouls_Delaware 21, Kentucky 18. A_NA.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.