UK women's notes: Cats look to play spoiler in SEC tourney

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 2, 2014 

  • NEXT GAME

    Women's SEC Tournament

    When: 2:30 p.m. Friday

    Where: Duluth, Ga.

    Opponent: To be determined

Kentucky's side of the conference tournament bracket is a Who's Who of teams that gave the Cats fit in the regular season.

There's a potential quarterfinal matchup with Florida, which upset UK twice in the regular season.

Then there's a potential rematch with Southeastern Conference regular-season champion South Carolina, which handed UK its worst loss of the season on its home floor on Feb. 20, in the Saturday semifinals at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.

"Can we cancel the trip? Maybe we should just cancel the trip," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell joked when asked about the minefield on his team's side of the bracket.

"If it were to be Florida, what a great opportunity for us to see how much we've improved," he continued. "It would be terrific for our team to see, 'Hey, here's a real tangible way to figure out if you've improved or not.' Same thing with South Carolina."

The coach and players still believe that they have a good chance to play the spoiler in the SEC Tournament.

"We know we have the capabilities to be a very good team and if you go down to that tournament with your mind on winning it, you need to be ready to play some great basketball teams and some great basketball.

"We're going down there to be champions and we need to have our minds set on that."

Junior guard Bria Goss said UK's goal as it heads to the tournament later this week should be to send the team's seniors out with a league title and "go down to Duluth and put on a show."

One advantage UK will have if it does face Florida in the quarterfinals is an extra day of rest. By earning the bye, UK will get to watch on Friday as Florida meets the winner of No. 12 seed Missouri and No. 13 seed Mississippi State.

The Gamecocks will meet the winner of Georgia and Vanderbilt in their quarterfinal game on Friday.

'It just went in and out'

Coming into the Vanderbilt game, Bria Goss was sixth nationally and first in the league in free-throw shooting, missing just seven of her 90 attempts so far this season.

But the junior guard missed her first two attempts on Sunday and then the second of two that could've given the Cats a three-point lead with less than 15 seconds to play.

Instead, Vandy had a shot to win it.

Goss, who made seven of her 10 shots from there, said she's not worried about the miss.

"I just went up to the line, shot it the same way as I always do," she said. "It just went in and out. (I'm) still very confident in my free throws. ... I don't look at any free throw differently; I just go up there and shoot with confidence."

On O'Neill's struggles

After scoring in double figures in six straight games down the stretch, UK's leading scorer Jennifer O'Neill has had two straight games with six points, including some uncharacteristically bad shooting.

The junior guard who went 1-for-12 at Mississippi State on Thursday night only made two of her seven tries on Sunday, including missing four three-pointers.

Mitchell is not worried.

"She's been really, really good for us all year and she'll be good for us again when it's all said and done," he said.

The coach said his only beef with O'Neill in this game was a possession when she should've taken an open three-pointer and instead drove and threw up what he called "little funky runner."

"I just didn't think it was a mentally sharp play," he said of the situation, in which he thought she might have been better off driving all the way to the basket and taking a layup or dishing it to a post player.

Not fair weather fans

The weather forecast was so questionable for Kentucky's game against the Commodores that UK officials tweeted out two hours before the game that fans "exercise caution traveling to and from Memorial."

Despite the impending inclement weather, 6,551 showed up at Memorial Coliseum for the Senior Day festivities and game, which made Mitchell beam.

"Senior Day's real special at Kentucky because people care," he said. "This is an amazing day. The crowd was huge today. I'm really thrilled. The threat of terrible weather and they still turned out."

Kentucky averaged 6,939 fans for its 16 home games this season.

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

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