The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team played two games in Rupp Arena in 10 days and earned two big victories, first over Louisville and then Sunday over Duke.
“It was magic tonight and it was magic 10 days ago,” Mitchell said of the crowd of 17,150 in Rupp on Sunday, the fourth largest in team history. “It was awesome.”
It isn’t lost on the team that the Wildcats could play in the downtown venue again this season if they’re able to advance to the NCAA Tournament regional scheduled for Rupp Arena on March 25 and 27.
“We’re going to work our tails off,” Mitchell said. “It’s a long time between now and March, but we really understand the opportunity we have to get back here.
“It would be awesome if we could play another game in here. That means we’re in the Sweet 16. We’ve got a long way, but that’s great motivation for us.”
On edge of history
At 10-0, Kentucky was one of just nine unbeaten teams left in the country entering Monday night, joining Baylor, Missouri, Southern California, South Carolina, Oregon, Maryland, Texas and Connecticut.
The Cats are also in rarefied air in the program’s history, becoming just the fourth team to start a season 10-0. If they can beat Tennessee State in Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 28, they’ll tie the best start in school history.
Both the 2009-10 team and the 2013-14 teams started their seasons 11-0 before falling. Kentucky will open conference play at Auburn on Jan. 3 in its 12th game.
How UK shut down Kentuckian Greenwell
It likely was not the stat line Duke star Rebecca Greenwell imagined in her first return to play in Kentucky since her high school days starring for Owensboro Catholic.
The Blue Devils’ second-leading scorer, who came in averaging 14.5 points a game and was coming off a career scoring night in her previous game, was held to one point in Kentucky’s 71-61 victory Sunday.
For the first time in her career, the sophomore didn’t make a field goal, finishing 0-for-6 from the field in Rupp Arena.
“She sometimes plays just too fast, can’t slow her down,” Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie said of Greenwell. “She’s a great player. I know she’s disappointed. She was the focus of their defense and they did a good job.”
Kentucky game planned for Greenwell, Coach Matthew Mitchell said. She’d burned the Cats a season ago in Durham, N.C.
“We had a game plan to try to make it tough on Becca,” he said. “She’s a very, very good player.”
That game plan almost exclusively involved freshmen guards Maci Morris and Taylor Murray trying to pester Greenwell, who missed all three three-pointers she tried.
“Taylor Murray and Maci Morris played tremendous defense on Greenwell all night,” junior guard Makayla Epps said.
Greenwell, who had her own cheering section in Rupp Arena, had three rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 38 minutes.
Cats move up to No. 7
Kentucky continued its climb in The Associated Press poll on Monday.
The Wildcats were No. 18 in the preseason Top 25, then rose to No. 13, No. 12, No. 11, spent two weeks at No. 8 and are now at No. 7.
Still in front of Kentucky are No. 1 Connecticut, No. 2 South Carolina, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 4 Baylor, No. 5 Texas and No. 6 Maryland. All six teams, like Kentucky, are undefeated with the exception of Notre Dame (9-1), whose only loss was at UConn.
Tennessee State at Kentucky
Dec. 28, 7 p.m.