KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not only has Kentucky collected a lot of wins this season, it's also collecting a lot of new friends and fans. On Facebook.
In their news conference before their Kansas City Region championship game against Oklahoma, the players noted the frenzy of the past few weeks of winning at the NCAA Tournament.
"When I checked my Facebook (Sunday) night, I had like 90 notifications," guard Amber Smith said. "Just so many people congratulating me. We're happy that we have so much support from back home."
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Senior forward Amani Franklin said she's had similar results.
"It's been awesome," she said. "It's just great to hear people who usually don't watch us are now watching us."
But Franklin was upset her numbers didn't rival those of her teammate.
"Keyla, she had 99 messages after the game," Franklin said. "I had 60, so I came in second place."
Smith, sitting down the table, frowned.
"I had 14," Smith said.
"I had seven," forward Victoria Dunlap chirped.
Not wanting to be left out, guard A'dia Mathies spilled her digits.
"I was somewhere between 30 — I was in the 30s," she said.
Coach Matthew Mitchell laughed when asked later about his new fans, friends and followers.
"I had to ask Vic what a notification is," he said. "I have a Facebook page, but I haven't been on it in a while. I certainly haven't checked it here."
Mitchell's more old school.
"I have a lot of texts," he said. "It's hard to get through all of those. ... We're just so busy with the opponent."
Another tall order
By now it's no secret Kentucky is a team packed with mighty mites.
There are no players in the current rotation taller than 6-foot-2, so they're going to have to find other ways to rebound against the Sooners, who outrebound opponents by an average of 4.4 a game and 6.7 a game so far in the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma has five players taller than 6-foot-1, including 6-foot-4 starter Abi Olajuwon and 6-1 senior Amanda Thompson. Both are averaging double-doubles this season.
Kentucky uses comic book-type verbs to encourage its pint-sized players to find creative ways to get on the boards.
"We call it action-oriented rebounding," Mitchell said. "Action words like grab, pull, snatch, dive, whatever you can do. We talk to them about those words before games because we can't get into a jumping match or think we're going to jump up and get rebounds."
Mitchell conceded Thompson and Olajuwon are imposing figures.
"I keep going into those games and saying how in the world are we going to do it, and somehow they've figured out a way to do it," he said.
Some familiar-sounding names have littered the Oklahoma roster the past few seasons. Names such as Courtney and Ashley Paris (now graduated) and current players Abi Olajuwon and Carlee Roethlisberger.
Olajuwon is the daughter of NBA great Hakeem. Roethlisberger is the younger sister of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben. The Paris sisters' father is Bubba Paris, a three-time Super Bowl winning lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.
When OU Coach Sherri Coale was asked if her school was a safe haven for the siblings and children of other elite athletes, she laughed.
"I don't coach the siblings nor the players' parents," Coale said. "It's just mere coincidence.
"I had recruited Courtney and Ashley long before I figured out who Bubba Paris was, so it was about the kids."
It's probably safe to say not many Kentucky cheerleaders — most who stand below 5 feet tall — have ever gotten above the rim to dunk a basketball.
But one cheerleader had that chance early in the second half of UK's win over Nebraska on Sunday.
A Dunlap shot died on the back part of the rim and stuck there. Officials looked around for a ladder or broom before Cats' cheerleaders Mason Levy and Vashti Thongdara came to the rescue.
In one motion, Levy stood Thongdara up on his shoulders, she retrieved the ball and then threw it down, prompting cheers even from an arena full of the opposing team's fans.