UK women draw No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2013 

  • Kentucky (27-5) vs. Navy (21-11): 12:05 p.m. Sunday in Queens, N.Y. (ESPNU)

As Kentucky's name flashed up on one of the big-screen televisions in Coach Matthew Mitchell's den, there was a high-pitched squeal.

Sure, seventh-ranked UK knew it was going to get into the NCAA Tournament, but one player had her fingers and toes crossed that the Cats would get to play their first-round games in Queens, N.Y.

"I was just so excited," sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill said. "I was like, 'I'm going home.'"

In a lot of ways this trip to the NCAA Tournament will feel as familiar as home to Kentucky, which earned the second seed in the Bridgeport bracket, opposite top-seeded Connecticut for the second straight season.

In fact, last season's 80-65 loss to the Huskies in the Region Finals helped create Kentucky's "40 Minutes" theme for this season.

A few hours before watching the ESPN Selection Show, UK's players watched that loss to UConn to remind themselves of what their goals are and how they fell just a few minutes shy of them.

"We watched film today and kind of saw how it slipped away little by little," senior guard A'dia Mathies said. "But we know we're a different team this year and we know if we do different things necessary, the things we should be doing, then we can make a Final Four."

But there are lots of 40-minute segments before a potential rematch, Coach Matthew Mitchell reminded.

"It'd be great to play (Connecticut) again because that would mean we were in the final eight," Mitchell said. "There's a lot of basketball between us and that matchup, but we would certainly be very excited to play in the Elite Eight again. It would be a tough road. There are some really quality teams in our bracket."

Included in that bracket is Sunday's first-round opponent, Navy, the three-time defending Patriot League champions. The Cats (27-5) will meet the Midshipmen at 12:05 p.m. on ESPNU.

Mitchell didn't know much about the Mids, a junior-dominated group, which held opponents to 51.7 points a game (13th best in the nation).

Coach Stefanie Pemper said facing UK is definitely a huge challenge for Navy (21-11), which has won eight of its last 10 games.

"It is a really, really strong opponent," Pemper said. "They are going to be challenging. ... They are deep, tall, athletic, long, they have one of the best players in the country in A'dia Mathies."

The winner of the Kentucky-Navy game will meet the winner of seventh-seeded Dayton (27-2) and No. 10 seed St. John's (18-12), the tournament host, for a chance to advance to the Bridgeport Regional.

"It will be a real tough test with Dayton and St. John's," Mitchell said. "If we're fortunate enough to win against Navy, that would be a real tough second-round game."

Other top teams in the region include No. 3 seed North Carolina, No. 4 seed Maryland and No. 5 seed Michigan State.

"We definitely feel like we can make it to the Final Four," Mathies said. "We're just excited to get started."

It would be new territory for the Cats, whose best finishes in the NCAA Tournament have been trips to the Elite Eight in 2012, 2010 and 1982.

And getting the road started at home makes this quest for the Final Four extra special for O'Neill, a Bronx native, and UK reserve Jalleah Sidney, from Queen's Village, N.Y.

"I'm just excited right now to have an opportunity to go home and for everyone to see us play," O'Neill said. "It's my hometown and a lot of my teammates have never been there. It's going to be a trip, an amazing trip."

Tickets

The Queens, N.Y., pod is hosted by St. John's and will be played at Carnesecca Arena. Session booklets, which include all three games, are $25 for adults and $15 for students (must be bought at ticket window).

Single session tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Tickets are available through St. John's ticket office at 1-800-467-8676 or at Redstormsports.com. Everyone, regardless of age, must have a ticket for admission.


Kentucky (27-5) vs. Navy (21-11): 12:05 p.m. Sunday in Queens, N.Y. (ESPNU)

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

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