UK Women's Basketball

Spartans-Cats is size vs. speed

LOUISVILLE — Post-season tournaments always spark debate: Would you rather be the more talented team or the more experienced team?

Would you rather be the faster team or the bigger team?

Kentucky and Michigan State will do their best to answer that second question in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament on Monday night at Freedom Hall, playing for a chance to advance to the regional in Kansas City.

"It's going to be a very interesting contrast in styles to see who can impose their will on the game," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

He laid it out simply for the media on Sunday the same way he laid it out for his fourth-seeded team in practice and film study.

"If they dominate us on the boards and we don't turn them over and score on that, they're going to win," Mitchell said. "If we can turn them over a bunch and compete on the boards, then we probably have a good shot to win."

It's nothing new for fourth-seeded UK to be vertically challenged compared with its opponent. Fifth seed Michigan State has an especially tall challenge for the Cats in 6-foot-9 senior Allyssa DeHaan.

The Spartans, who knocked Kentucky out of the NCAA Tournament in this round in 2006, also played five others 6-foot or taller in their first-round win over Bowling Green on Saturday.

They outscored the Falcons 28-4 in the paint and outrebounded them 42-35.

Kentucky has only Victoria Dunlap (6-1) and reserve Brittany Henderson (6-2) to contend with that size.

"We're not the tallest people," Dunlap conceded. "But I think our speed is going to be effective against them.

"We have to get up and down the floor in transition and make some easy buckets."

That's a concern for the Spartans (23-9), who have won 12 of their last 14 games and have the experience of advancing to the Sweet 16 last season.

"It's going to be key for us to keep our composure and try not to play as fast as they're playing," junior guard Cetera Washington said. "We have to make the simple pass and the simple read."

That may be difficult to do, Coach Suzy Merchant noted.

"They make it really, really hard to slow it down," she said. "One through five, they are the fastest team we've seen."

The Spartans are going to have to keep turnovers to a minimum. Merchant said UK's pressure defense likely has the goal of turning a team over 20 times for at least 20 points.

Not quite, Mitchell said.

"The goal is 25 in each game," he said. "It's a lofty goal."

Michigan State offers a statistical oddity. The Spartans have had nine games with 20 or more turnovers this season, but they went 5-4 in those games.

Twice this season they turned it over 27 times, versus North Carolina and Purdue, and won both times.

"It's conversion, that's the name of the game," Mitchell explained. "You can't just turn them over, you've got to convert them into points, and that will be a huge stat for us because I'm real concerned about whether we can rebound with them."

Point guard Amber Smith said UK's best defensive and rebounding games are to come. She noted the Cats struggled in the first game with Liberty. Part of it may have been nerves or rust from the layoff.

Whatever the reason, Kentucky will play better, she said.

"We'll come back and play better defensively and get back to our identity of playing pressure defense and getting after it," she said. "We'll play Kentucky defense like we have been playing."

Noting that both UK and MSU stress defense, DeHaan surmised it's going to be "a fun matchup" on Monday.

Tell that to Mitchell, who several times called this game a big test.

Or tell that to Merchant, who provided this laundry list of the things about Kentucky that recently deprived her of sleep.

"Pressure, tempo, transition, rebounding, guard play, post play," she told to the media. "You want me to keep going? Because I could."