Hoops’ OK effort enough — for now

By Alex Forkner | @AlexFork3

aforkner@kykernel.com

No. 15 seeds beating No. 2 seeds has become trendy on the men’s side of the bracket these past two seasons.

And after UK Hoops trailed Navy, 26-25, at halftime on Sunday, it seemed the trend might become fashionable for women, too.

But Matthew Mitchell’s squad turned it on in the second half, coasting to a 20-point victory, UK’s largest win in an NCAA Tournament game.

“We were a little rusty offensively,” Mitchell told ESPN after the game. “We have tended to struggle a bit in these first-round games.”

In UK’s past three first-round games, the Cats have won by six (2012: 68-62 over McNeese State), four (2011: 66-62 over Hampton in overtime) and six (2010: 83-77 over Liberty).

UK’s recent history was repeating itself in the first half, where the Cats struggled offensively (31.8 percent from the field) and failed to up the intensity on the defensive end. Navy managed to sink five 3-pointers en route to the halftime lead.

The second half, however, was a different story. UK looked like the team it should be, using strong defense to distance itself from Navy, whose 41 points are a record low for a UK opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats didn’t give their best effort in the first round. Most notably, A’dia Mathies failed to score a field goal for the first time in her UK career, finishing with only five points.

An OK effort turned out to be plenty today. Going forward, that won’t be the case.

When the Cats face No. 7 seed Dayton on Tuesday, they’ll be up against a team unaccustomed to losing. The Flyers soared through the Atlantic 10 undefeated and have suffered just two losses all season.

Each round brings increased pressure, and the Cats can’t afford a flat performance if they hope to make it back to the Elite Eight for a probable rematch with UConn (which just so happened to beat its first-round opponent Idaho, 105-37).

Now the Cats must shake off the rust, polish their offense and put the pedal down on defense to fulfill their goal of a deep tournament run.