The last time Kentucky and Oklahoma met in an NCAA Tournament game, Sooners Coach Sherri Coale made an adjustment that helped put the Cats away.
“I didn’t figure it out until about a month later,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the 88-68 loss in the 2010 regional finals. ”That’s how good she was and is. She is such a great coach.”
Great coaches look for ways to motivate their players, which is no doubt what Coale was doing on Sunday when she called the Cats “crazy athletic.”
She continued of the Sooners’ second-round NCAA Tournament opponent: “We don’t match up well at any spot.”
That comment had Mitchell chuckling a bit at the podium.
“They have a huge advantage in coaching; let me say that first of all,” he smiled, suggesting Coale’s decision to wear UK blue in the tournament opener on Saturday night was an attempt to sway the partisan Cats crowd. “I will not agree with her that they don’t have any advantages in this game.”
Mitchell said Coale’s ability to make in-game adjustments is such a factor that it has affected UK’s game plan for Monday night.
“I’ve had the misfortune of playing against her twice now, and I’m glad it’s only twice,” he said. “I hope I don’t have to play against her again for a long time. She knows how to make adjustments in the game, so the challenge is great just trying to match wits with her. It will really stretch us as coaches.”
The plan for Kentucky is not to get bogged down in the different scenarios the Sooners can throw at opponents, but instead to focus on what the Cats do well.
Kentucky does not want to get into a half-court game with Oklahoma.
“If we played a half-court game with them, a half-court game of make-it, take-it and you get it at the top and check it up every time, that would be to their advantage,” Mitchell said, noting the plan is to increase the tempo.
The Cats’ ability to score in transition has Oklahoma’s attention. The focus will be on making sure “that we figure out who we’ve got because they do push the ball well,” Coale said. “So, just making sure that we stop the potential rush.”
Sprinting back on every missed opportunity will be key, guard Gabbi Ortiz said.
“We’ve got to get back and matchup,” Ortiz said. “We worked on our transition defense and we just have got to talk to each other.”
As the NCAA Tournament brackets were announced, the trash talk commenced.
Madison Treece, a 2017 Kentucky commit, already was in her older sister’s ear.
“She’s been saying stuff and obviously it’s been all in good fun, but I’ve been like, ‘You can’t say anything yet because you’re not even a senior yet,’” said McKenna Treece, a 6-foot-4 reserve on Oklahoma’s team.
McKenna Treece’s argument is that Madison shouldn’t be able to talk about how Kentucky’s going to get the best of Oklahoma until she’s put on an actual UK uniform.
There’s been much back-and-forth between the siblings from St. Peters, Mo., leading up to Monday night’s game, even though it’s not likely McKenna will play. The sophomore is still working through the concussion protocol.
Before the injury, McKenna was averaging about 2.5 points and two rebounds in 10 minutes a game, but she had played double-digit minutes in each of the last five games before the injury.
McKenna tried to get Madison, also a 6-foot-4 center, to follow her to Oklahoma. The Sooners were in the younger Treece’s final list of schools, which included Michigan, Nebraska, Dayton and Iowa.
The Treece family won’t be making the trip to Lexington on Monday because of work and school conflicts.
They have a close connection to UK assistant coach Camryn Whitaker, McKenna said, so it was fun to see her again this week.
“When I saw her, she came up and gave me a big hug and I was like, ‘This is really nice, but ...’” she smiled. “It was nice to see her and everyone here is super friendly.”
▪ Oklahoma was the landing spot for former Kentucky signee Morgan Rich of Allen County-Scottsville. The 5-foot-10 guard left UK and requested a transfer.
She was part of a mass exodus at the start of the season that included Linnae Harper (heading to Ohio State) and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Western Kentucky). In that same period, UK also dismissed guard Chrishae Rowe, who has since signed to play with Ole Miss.
Rich was never able to practice with the team or take part in Big Blue Madness because she hadn’t met certain program standards to practice, a UK spokesman said.
The guard, who will be eligible to play for the Sooners next season, was at Memorial Coliseum for their first-round game, sitting with fans behind the Oklahoma bench.
An arms race
NCAA Tournament news conferences usually provide little in the way of comic relief, but a quip about Kentucky’s players from Oklahoma’s coach made a lasting impression.
“A couple of them have arms that look like Adrian Peterson,” she said of the NFL running back. “I’m telling you, some strong, athletic young girls.”
Mitchell agreed, noting that he saw a picture of forward Evelyn Akhator in the newspaper recently.
“I’m trying to get my biceps to look like that,” he said, flexing his own arm.