QUEENS, N.Y. — The players for Navy are physical and tough.
It's the nature of a service academy player, but even Coach Stefanie Pemper said it's going to be a true test of stamina and strength for the Midshipmen to face Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
"There will be harder physical challenges in their lives than the game Sunday, but not many, but there will be some," Pemper said on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena on St. John's campus. "They just have to dig down and rise to the challenge."
Kentucky's goal is to do what it always does: Use 10 or more players in waves to wear down Navy and force the Mids into turnovers.
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Tempo will be key, UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said.
"We want to score a bunch of points and make the game as fast as possible," he said.
"We need this to be a very fast-paced game. We need to play this game at a really high pace and speed Navy up, because if you let them really execute their offense, they're quite impressive."
Navy has three players averaging more than 30 minutes a game (Kentucky has just one, A'dia Mathies, with her 30.2 minutes a game) and the Mids have two other players who average 26 minutes or more a game.
When asked what Navy could do to combat UK's formidable reserves, Pemper smiled.
"We're going to have to get a really good breakfast tomorrow," she said. "We're going to have to hydrate. We're going to have to get our rest tonight and just really dig down."
As one might expect, Navy is a disciplined team that is happy playing a half-court game. The Midshipmen average just 14.5 miscues a game, but admitted they haven't faced any kind of pressure like Kentucky's pressure before.
In women's NCAA Tournament history, a No. 2 seed has never been upset by a No. 15 seed, but those kinds of stats don't mean it can't be done.
Just ask Pemper, who was an assistant coach on the Harvard staff when the Crimson upset top-seeded Stanford as No. 16 seed, the first time it's been done in men's or women's basketball history.
When asked what an upset like that would mean for Navy, Pemper again smiled.
"You pull off an upset, it has a life of its own," she said. "That's the simplest way to put it. To have that would be monumentous."
It might be life altering, junior guard Kara Pollinger said.
"To upset such a great team, I'd be speechless," she said. "And I'd probably watch the game every night for the rest of my life."
Clock running on Mathies
Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies always seems to be at her best when the clock is winding down in a game. But what about now, when the clock is winding down on her four-year career at Kentucky?
"I think about it sometimes," she admitted on Saturday. "This will be the last time I'm playing at Kentucky, but it's still a long season. If you go all the way, you're playing for three something more weeks."
The extra games will help Mathies achieve one of her final goals at UK (aside from making it to her first Final Four), which is scoring 2,000 career points. If UK advances to the Final Four, Mathies would need to average a manageable 11 points a game to reach 2,000.
In 10 career NCAA Tournament games, the guard has averaged 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, three assists and 2.1 steals.
With the indefinite suspension of junior forward Samantha Drake, look for junior college transfer Jelleah Sidney to take on a bigger role.
After struggling most of the season with some soreness in her knee, the 6-foot-2 forward has been practicing well as of late and could be a factor in the NCAA Tournament. She has been seeing time as a part of that next five or "gray team" rotation.
"It's terrific timing for her," Mitchell said of Sidney, who is a Queen's Village, N.Y., native. "She's back in her hometown and it looks like she'll definitely get an opportunity to step in there and play with that gray team off the bench. We're real excited for her."