Delaware's scoring machine faces a big challenge against No. 2 seed Kentucky.

Elena Delle Donne is watched during practice by Blue Hens coach Tina Martin. This is the first time the Blue Hens have made it into the Sweet 16.
Elena Delle Donne is watched during practice by Blue Hens coach Tina Martin. This is the first time the Blue Hens have made it into the Sweet 16. (JOHN WOIKE / Hartford Courant)
Posted: March 30, 2013

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Story lines are plentiful here at the Bridgeport Regional semifinal portion of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

There's the $10.8 million contract extension given by the University of Connecticut to its Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown and has guided the top-seeded Huskies (31-4) to seven national titles.

No. 4 seed Maryland (26-7), the team UConn will face Saturday in the second game in the sold out Webster Bank Arena, took a new approach to the postseason by taking the Acela Express on Amtrak from College Park to the Terrapins' hotel in Stamford, 30 minutes south of here.

Number 2 Kentucky (29-5) is looking to take a further step by avenging last season's regional final loss to Connecticut and land in the Women's Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.

Coach Matthew Mitchell has an ex-UConn player in Samarie Walker, who transferred halfway through last season to the Southeastern Conference powerhouse.

In addition, Wildcats assistant coach Matthew Mitchell was just named by Mississippi as its new women's basketball coach.

But all these stories are overshadowed by sixth-seeded Delaware (32-3) and its sensational 6-foot-5 senior Elena Delle Donne, who transformed the Blue Hens from a quality mid-major member of the Colonial Athletic Association to one of the tournament's top attractions.

Saturday's noon opener threatens to be the end of the collegiate portion of the Delle Donne saga since her emergence in 2008 as the top high school prospect out of Wilmington's Ursuline Academy.

Many thought last Tuesday night would be the last chapter before Delaware rallied to upset No. 3 North Carolina. The versatile Delle Donne scored 33 points, passed the 3,000-point plateau, and drove the sellout home crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center into a frenzy. It is the first time the Blue Hens have made it into the Sweet 16.

Delle Donne, who originally committed to UConn before leaving the campus after 48 hours, has been in the limelight since seventh grade, when North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell told Delle Donne's father, Ernie, she intended to offer her a scholarship in the future.

Though initially Delle Donne claimed burnout as a reason for her departure from Connecticut, she later said she needed to be near her home and family, especially her older sister, Lizzie, who was born blind, deaf, and with cerebral palsy.

The impact of Delle Donne, along with seniors Brittany Griner of tournament favorite Baylor, and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins, was felt at the pro level on Thursday with the announcement that ESPN was extending its relationship for six seasons with the WNBA through 2022.

The talented trio is expected to be picked quickly at next month's WNBA draft, which will be televised from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Conn.

Delaware coach Tina Martin said her Blue Hens are loose and having fun, though senior point guard Trumae Lucas noted, "Once we get on the court, we know it's all about business. I think we'll be ready for Kentucky come tomorrow."

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