UK Women's Basketball

Kentucky women know ‘our NCAA Tournament lives are at stake’ in next round

Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell talked to his players during the first half Thursday. His team faces undefeated and second-ranked Mississippi State on Friday. “There’s so much motivation on our plate,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to rise up right now and shock everybody and get this victory.”
Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell talked to his players during the first half Thursday. His team faces undefeated and second-ranked Mississippi State on Friday. “There’s so much motivation on our plate,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to rise up right now and shock everybody and get this victory.” AP

The scouting report is likely so fresh that Kentucky won’t even have to go over it in much detail.

That’s the only good news for UK as it prepares to face unbeaten and second-ranked Mississippi State in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Kentucky, which topped Alabama in the second round at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday, will meet the league champion Bulldogs for the third time in 19 days when they face off on Friday.

Mississippi State, with 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan, hasn’t had much trouble ousting Kentucky in the two previous meetings, including an 85-63 win in Lexington on Sunday and a 74-55 home win on Feb. 11.

“It’s been around a 20-point margin and we’ve got to find a way to strengthen ourselves and we’ve got to get five more stops and make five more baskets and get us a chance to win the game at the end,” Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the upcoming battle with the Bulldogs and first-team SEC players McCowan and Victoria Vivians.

In each of those games, Kentucky was able to hang around, but had one quarter that ended its hopes of an upset.

Somehow, some way the Cats have to avoid that quarter.

“There’s always room for improvement and we can get them this last time hopefully,” UK’s Makenzie Cann said.

cats
Kentucky center Dorie Harrison protected the ball from Alabama guard Shaquera Wade (23) during the second half Thursday. Mark Humphrey AP

A third straight loss to the Bulldogs would snap a Kentucky streak of eight straight appearances in the SEC Tournament semifinals. It also will end the school’s run of eight straight NCAA Tournament trips.

Postseason chances look bleak for the Cats, who would fall to 15-17 with a loss to Mississippi State on Friday. Unless a team gets the automatic qualifier for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, it won’t get in the field with a losing record.

Kentucky is as aware of what’s on the line Friday as it is of the scouting report for the all-too-familiar Bulldogs.

“There’s so much motivation on our plate,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to rise up right now and shock everybody and get this victory, it’s extremely important. Our NCAA Tournament lives are at stake and we have to play with a maximum Kentucky Wildcat effort tomorrow.”

‘Flashback’ Thursday

It was an emotional jolt for Kentucky playing without freshman forward KeKe McKinney, who had to sit out the opener while working through the concussion protocol.

The Cats’ coach thought his team struggled with energy early in the game in part because of the missing starter.

“That was a very tough blow, just emotionally for the team to handle,” Mitchell said of playing without McKinney, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s quarterfinals.

Kentucky had to move guard Makenzie Cann back to an unnatural spot at small forward, a position she was forced to play a lot last season with so few players on the roster.

“It was a flashback,” said Cann, who had five points and five rebounds. “It was like last year all over again. But I guess that was helpful last year because I wasn’t just thrown into it. It wasn’t completely foreign to me.”

Her ability to slide into the frontcourt was key to the Cats’ victory over Alabama.

“She made big plays in the game and everybody hung in and stuck together,” he said.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments