UK women see themselves in next NCAA foe

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2012 

  • Green Bay vs. Kentucky

    When: 9:45 p.m. Monday

    Where: Ames, Iowa

    Records: Green Bay 31-1 (17-1 Horizon League); UK 26-6 (13-3 SEC)

    Series: First meeting

    TV/radio: ESPN2, WLXG-AM 630

AMES, Iowa — This usually is the game in the NCAA Tournament where Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell thinks his team's style of play gives it an advantage.

Most teams need more than one day to prepare for his Cats' speedy, aggressive, turnover-inducing defense.

Not so this season.

The Cats will meet their match in Green Bay.

"I'm hoping we have enough time to prepare for them," Mitchell said on Sunday, the day before UK will meet the Phoenix at Hilton Coliseum. "They are really, really good. It's two teams with similar styles. It's just going to be a difficult game."

On Saturday night, Mitchell got his first up-close look at the Horizon League champions, who easily dispatched tournament host Iowa State 71-57, using their pressure to turn the Cyclones over a whopping 30 times.

"This is an incredible team to be a seven seed in this tournament," said Mitchell, not sounding much like the No. 2 seed and alleged favorite. "They're 31-1. ... This will be the biggest challenge we've seen."

Green Bay's goals are the same as Kentucky's. They want to make teams uncomfortable for 40 minutes. They want to turn those forced turnovers into quick points.

They want to play fast and aggressive.

Both the Phoenix, who have won 11 straight and finished the season ranked ahead of UK in the last national polls, and the Cats have been successful at meeting their goals this season.

Green Bay ranks second in the nation behind (guess who?) Kentucky in turnover margin.

Of the NCAA Tournament's 64 teams, UK and Green Bay entered fifth overall in steals at 12.5 a game.

"It will be a fun game and be a good matchup between two good teams," UK senior guard Keyla Snowden said. "I just hope we do what we're supposed to do and come out with a win."

Not surprisingly, the Phoenix's star senior mirrored Snowden.

"It'll be a fast-paced game and will come down to who has the most poise and who can make the most shots," said Julie Wojta, the Horizon League Player of the Year after averaging 19.6 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Green Bay's biggest worry seems to be Kentucky's depth and athleticism, especially inside with players like Samantha Drake, Samarie Walker and Azia Bishop.

"Their size and their athleticism (will be) hard for us to deal with," Coach Matt Bollant said. "It's just something they're good at and it's hard to stop that. The advantage is they play a fast style, which we like to play as well."

Both teams average about 74 points a game and spread the points around. UK has five players who score seven points or more a game, led by A'dia Mathies' 15.4 points.

The Phoenix have four players averaging 9.7 points or more per game.

Green Bay is a bit of mystery for Mitchell, who said no team has played the Phoenix the way UK plans to play them.

"I don't have any frame of reference on people playing them the way we're going to try to play them," Mitchell said. "We're going to try to press them, really speed them up. We're going to try to pressure every pass they make and get them out of their comfort zone."

But the Phoenix players seem to think they can handle whatever the Cats (26-6) throw at them.

"Kentucky does pressure more than teams we've seen," junior forward Sarah Eichler said. "We'll be able to handle it. We're really poised."

On Sunday, neither coach seemed altogether comfortable with his next opponent, especially with a trip to the Sweet 16 and the Kingston (R.I.) Regional hanging in the balance.

"It's not going to be very much fun to coach in, but it's going to be fun to watch," Mitchell assured. "It's going to come down to which team can make the tougher plays over the course of the game. It's going to be a really, really difficult game."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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