NCAA notes: UK women blow off steam at firing range

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2014 

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell speaks to his team as Makayla Epps, right, looks on during practice in advance of the team's NCAA tournament appearance at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 21, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins

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Curling up in the fetal position and crying was one option.

Sitting alone in a dark room and stewing silently was another.

But instead of pondering what could've been after Kentucky lost by a single point in the Southeastern Conference championship game two weeks ago, some UK players went with a much different option.

Several of the Cats decided to blow off some steam by heading to the firing range.

"What is the saying? 'You have to laugh to keep from crying?'" senior guard Kastine Evans said. "That's what it was, a fun way to do something together and forget our frustrations."

Jennifer O'Neill, whose mother was a police officer, suggested the adventure. She'd been to the firing range before, but never while at Kentucky.

Most of her teammates had never been to the range at all, but thought it might be fun.

"After a loss like that, I just wanted to be around my teammates or family, but my family's not here," junior guard Bria Goss said. "It got my mind off things. We had a good time."

O'Neill was feeling frustrated after the loss to Tennessee.

She hated feeling that way going into the NCAA Tournament starting Saturday morning against Wright State in Memorial Coliseum.

Taking out her frustrations on some targets was helpful, she said.

"I just thought it might be a good way for people to release steam," said O'Neill, whom Goss said was the best shot of the group.

"Jen is really good," Goss said laughing. "Don't make her mad."

When asked about his players' side activity, Coach Matthew Mitchell laughed.

"I'm not sure I want to know," he said before a recent practice, shaking his head. "I've never heard of that before in my life. ... I just hope they're not coming after me."

Not UK fans on Saturday

For Wright State Coach Mike Bradbury, being back in Kentucky is like coming home.

Bradbury, a former coach at Morehead State after Mitchell took the job at UK, was born in LaRue County. His mother, Vicki Pollock, lives in Versailles and his father, Tommy Bradbury, lives in Elizabethtown.

And there are a host of aunts, uncles and cousins all around Central Kentucky, his aunt, Jana Sturm, explained in an email.

"Our side of the family are lifelong UK fans," Sturm continued, adding that the family will be wearing green and gold on Saturday, though.

The Wright State coach said on Friday that he understands the passion of Kentucky fans because he grew up one.

"It's kind of weird because the family is split down the middle and you have to be careful where you want to watch the game and stuff when Kentucky and Louisville are playing," he said. "It's really not that big of a deal now, but when I was growing up I did pull for Kentucky."

Home sweet home?

The decidedly blue hue will give Kentucky an advantage on Saturday in Memorial Coliseum, where the Cats have won 44 straight non-conference games dating to Dec. 19, 2008.

In the 8,000-seat arena where UK is hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, the Cats hold a 94-16 mark under Mitchell.

But he doesn't want his players to "think somehow the building is going to win the game for them because that's not what's going to happen."

The benefit hopefully comes from familiarity, he said.

"It doesn't feel like an away game," O'Neill confirmed. "It is more comfortable for me. Just knowing the gym and knowing how well we shoot in here, I think that is going to help us."

O'Neill does shoot better at home than on the road, hitting 39.6 percent of her shots compared to 38.5 percent on the road, but as a team, UK has statistically been better away from Memorial Coliseum this season.

UK makes 42.9 percent of its shots at home compared to 44.7 percent in true road games. From three-point range, the Cats hit 34.9 percent on the road versus 32.9 percent at home.

Points of contention

The first-round game on Saturday could prove to be a barn burner, with both Wright State and Kentucky among the nation's top 14 in scoring this season, including the Raiders, who are fourth overall at 84 points a game.

Raiders guard Tay'ler Mingo said the plan is to try to negate UK's height advantage with speed and offensive execution. "If we can get the score up to where we're used to averaging it can be a really good game," she said.

But a fast-paced, high scoring game might be to UK's advantage. The Cats are 64-3 under Mitchell when scoring 80 or more points, including 58-2 in the last three seasons.

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

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