AMES, Iowa — McNeese State's five starters did not like their coach's fuzzy math.
At practice this week, they noticed that Coach Brooks Donald-Williams had lined up nine players to play against them. It was her best attempt to simulate what the Cowgirls might be up against when they face second-seeded Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament's first round Saturday at Iowa State.
"Their defense is just stifling," Donald-Williams told the media on Friday. "It really is."
Thus the nine practice players double- and triple-teaming the Cowgirls' star guards.
"We just tried to make them as uncomfortable as we could because we know that's how Kentucky's going to make them feel on Saturday," Donald-Williams said.
The coach was impressed that her junior guards, twin sisters Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett, didn't buckle under the pressure.
Donald-Williams hopes that carries over into Saturday's game.
"I thought we handled it pretty well," she said. "We scored and did some good things with all of those bodies around us."
The McNeese players said their schedule has prepared them well for whatever Kentucky might throw at them.
The Cowgirls have played at top-ranked Baylor (90-50 loss) and at defending national champion Texas A&M (72-62 loss). They've also faced Louisiana State (64-43 loss).
"Our schedule really helped us," McNeese senior Kendra Wells said. "It really helped us to prepare for this environment and the types of players we're going to face in the NCAA Tournament."
Ashlyn Baggett said she doesn't care what the seeds are, that UK is a No. 2 seed and the Cowgirls are No. 15 or that no 15 seed has ever advanced to the second round in the women's tournament.
"We're not going to get caught up in the numbers," Baggett said. "It's like another game to us. We're going to show up and execute what we practice every day and the better team is going to win."
Different kind of Cowgirl
In 2009, Kentucky walloped McNeese State 85-50 at Memorial Coliseum, but if you'd told either team's coach that their teams would be meeting in the NCAA Tournament two years later, they might have scoffed.
Especially the Cowgirls' Donald-Williams, whose team went 7-22 that season. But they've changed a lot since then, going 26-7 in each of the past two seasons and winning Southland Conference Tournament titles. The swing matched the best turnaround in NCAA history.
So it especially pleased the Cowgirls' coach when she got a text from Mitchell late Monday night that said: "Girl, y'all have gotten better."
"That was good to hear from somebody else because we feel like we have, too," she said. "We both have grown leaps and bounds."
Happy, healthy Mathies
The NCAA Tournament was not a happy place for UK's star guard A'dia Mathies last season.
She struggled with chronic back pain that limited her minutes, her range of motion, even her ability to sleep.
Just thinking about it on Friday in pre-game interviews made her wince. "I never want to go back to that place," the 5-foot-9 guard said.
The SEC's Player of the Year, who averages 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals, said she's ready to put that physically painful chapter of the NCAA Tournament behind her.
"It was very frustrating to know I couldn't give my best effort for the team when I knew everyone was counting on me," she said. "This year, since I'm healthy, I hope I can give a lot more."