UK Women's Basketball

UK women have 26 reasons to get up for Cards

Louisville guard Becky Burke celebrated after a three-pointer during the Cardinals' 78-52 rout of the Wildcats last season. Kentucky will go for revenge Sunday.
Louisville guard Becky Burke celebrated after a three-pointer during the Cardinals' 78-52 rout of the Wildcats last season. Kentucky will go for revenge Sunday.

Sunday's rivalry game will be brought to you by the No. 26.

There are plenty of other numbers to consider, like Louisville's No. 10 ranking and Kentucky's No. 12.

It's the first time in the long series that the two teams have been ranked so highly.

Then there's the number 8,000, capacity of Memorial Coliseum, which already is sold out.

But the number that matters most to Kentucky's players is 26.

It's the margin by which the Cardinals drilled them last season at the KFC Yum Center in front of 22,152 people, the largest crowd to see a women's basketball game in state history.

"It's up everywhere in our locker room," junior A'dia Mathies said of the No. 26. She doesn't know who plastered it on the walls, but she knows it's a daily reminder.

"It brought back memories that we don't want it to happen again and hopefully it won't happen again."

Amber Smith brought up the number last weekend when the Cats (7-0) bested Mississippi Valley State and remained unbeaten coming into this rematch with Louisville (7-1).

The final margin sticks with UK's senior point guard because she had to watch from the bench after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament last season.

Does this mean she's excited to play Louisville on Sunday?

"You just don't know," she told a reporter.

"We shouldn't have gotten blown out. That's embarrassing. I'm going to let the girls know. I'm going to give them the talk. Twenty-six points. That just shouldn't happen. It's a rivalry game. It should be down to the wire, unless we're blowing them out."

That's exactly what happened the season before when the point guard-less Cardinals were decimated by UK at Memorial Coliseum by 34 points. It's still Kentucky's only win in the series in the past seven meetings.

UK Coach Matthew Mitchell doesn't mind his players using the No. 26 as motivation, but he hopes that as much as they're looking back, they're also looking forward to what promises to be a big matchup.

Louisville's "ability to make plays, their ability to shoot the ball is really a tough matchup for us with our pressing style," he said. "The biggest thing is their overall talent level is very concerning."

The Cardinals (7-1) have loads of talent and depth, including Shoni Schimmel (13.2 points, 5.2 assists a game), one of the nation's top point guards, and Monique Reid, who is averaging an efficient 17 points and 4.6 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes of play.

"Their guards are so good they can make you look bad at times and I'm sure they'll make us look bad at times," Mitchell said. "How will we respond to that challenge when we're faced with it in the game?"

As a team, the Cards shoot 44 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from three-point range.

They are a veteran team that has already played at defending national champion Texas A&M and earned a win at then-No. 24 Florida State.

Kentucky leads the nation in turnover margin at plus-17.6 a game and is second in steals with 18 a game.

UK is forcing an average of 35.7 miscues a game and it averages 40.3 points off of those mistakes.

That's a big worry for Louisville Coach Jeff Walz.

"If it gets into a game where it's going up and down the floor and we don't handle the pressure they're going to apply, it's in their favor," the Louisville coach said. "If we can get the ball across halfcourt and attack the basket, then our size could come into a factor. Both teams are going to try to get their style of play to be the one that's most effective."

For Kentucky, which has played just one of its seven games away from Memorial Coliseum this season, it will be the biggest challenge so far this season.

"We'll learn as much about our team's makeup and how tough they are than anything," Mitchell said. "It's two really talented teams going at it and we'll see who wins."

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