What’s a Kentucky fan to do when the women’s and men’s NCAA Tournament games overlap on Saturday evening?
Watch both in Memorial Coliseum, of course, with some free pizza courtesy of Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell.
Kentucky sought and was granted permission to show the rest of the men’s 5:15 p.m. game versus Indiana on the big screen in Memorial Coliseum directly following the end of the women’s first-round game against Big South Conference champion UNC-Asheville, which starts at 4 p.m.
Fans attending the women’s game are encouraged to stick around and watch the men’s game, with Mitchell offering the added incentive of free pizza for fans who stay to watch the game.
“Very few schools get the opportunity that we have tomorrow to see both our basketball programs play in the NCAA Tournament,” Mitchell tweeted out on Friday night. “It’s so special in fact, I want to give away a bunch of free pizza.”
Fans must have a ticket for Saturday’s session and stay after to watch the men’s game on the video board to receive the free pizza.
No fans will be allowed into Memorial Coliseum before or after the women’s basketball game vs. UNCA without a ticket, and fans may not leave Memorial Coliseum and re-enter between or after games on Saturday, according to the UK release.
Tickets are still available for the first-round games in Memorial Coliseum on Saturday at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukhoopstix.com. Oklahoma and Purdue tip off at 1:30 p.m. followed by UK’s game.
The impromptu pizza party is just one of many ways Mitchell is trying to make sure the event is a success.
The coach also did his own version of the “robo-call” to fans encouraging them to come support the NCAA Tournament in Lexington this week and in Rupp Arena next week.
“I had a great robo-call,” he said, perhaps channeling his inner Donald Trump.
“We have tried to get the word out. I’ve tried to get my robo-call in there in between Hillary (Clinton), Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and their robo-calls. …
“I’ve gone on every radio show, podcast and television show that we have, trying to get the word out. We’ve always had great support here the past couple of years. We’ve had great crowds and I expect that we will have great crowds.”
‘Process’ pays off for UNC-Asheville
In 2012, the first season as a head coach for Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, UNC-Asheville won two games.
And those didn’t really even count, she joked.
“Those were non-Division I wins,” Mock Kirkpatrick confessed. “So we went winless as far as Division I games are concerned in my first year.”
The next two seasons the Bulldogs hovered around the 10-win plateau, but it wasn’t exactly a quick rebuild for the former Florida assistant coach.
“Looking at that first year to keep those kids going out on the court and just competing and putting a competitive product on the floor that wasn’t quitting every night, that was difficult,” she admitted.
But the Bulldogs turned the corner this season, going 26-6, winning the Big South regular-season championship and surviving two overtimes to win the tournament title and advance to their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.
“I am going to use this word again, the ‘process,’” said Big South Player of the Year Chatori Major, who averages 13.9 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. “I really think that is key to what we have done this year. We really do take everything step-by-step and that has gotten us to where we are right now.”
‘Not going to be a good experience’
UNC-Asheville is trying to avoid that old “happy to be here” mentality going into the school’s first NCAA Tournament since 2007, but it will be difficult against a UK team that has been to seven straight.
“It’s really hard to replicate that or imitate that experience until they walk out there tomorrow to warm up,” Mock Kirkpatrick said, noting that UK averaged 6,900 fans a game this season in Memorial Coliseum, which is roughly 6,000 more fans than the Bulldogs averaged this season.
As a women’s basketball fan, Mock Kirkpatrick said she’s excited that there could be 6,000-plus at the game on Saturday, but she’s also a little uneasy about how her team will handle it.
“That’s not going to be a good experience,” she smiled, before adding that her team is “expecting that, but expecting it and actually going through it are two different things.”