Kentucky duels Princeton in NCAA Tournament Round of 64


Kentucky Wildcats head coach Kyra Elzy holds the cut championship net during the team’s return from the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Kentucky. UK defeated No. 1 South Carolina 64-62 with a 3-pointer by Dre’Una Edwards in the last seconds of the game in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

No. 6 seeded Kentucky found itself in the Bridgeport Region of the bracket, first facing off against No. 11 seeded Princeton, as it attempts to win its first national championship in program history.

The Wildcats earned the No. 6 seed by defeating No. 1 overall seeded South Carolina in the championship game of the SEC Tournament, the Sunday prior to Selection Sunday, earning their first SEC Championship in 40 years.

Kentucky had previously been projected around the No. 11 line entering the conference tournament, expected to take part in the first play-in games in womens tournament history since the field expanded to 68 after 2021.

The Wildcats had dropped out of the tournament entirely following a 1-8 skid to start the new year, before rattling off 10-straight wins, including the championship game, to end the season.

Princeton, similarly to Kentucky, also earned the auto-bid of its league, outlasting Columbia in the Ivy League Championship on Saturday.

Despite winning an automatic bid from a one-bid league, Princeton shapes up to be a worthy opponent for Kentucky in its less than favorable tournament draw, with the Tigers finishing the season ranked No. 24 in the AP Top 25 poll with a 24-4 record.

Princeton swept the Ivy League, finishing 14-0 in conference play to win the regular season championship as well as the tournament championship, with all of its losses coming in its pre-conference slate.

Though Kentucky has its 10-game win streak, Princeton currently boasts a 17-game win streak, having not lost in 2022.

In fact, Princeton’s last loss of the season came on Dec. 22, as the Tigers fell to then No. 12 Texas 70-53 at home, with the Longhorns eventually earning a No. 2 seed in the big dance.

Prior to the loss, Princeton had also secured a win over then No. 22 Florida Gulf Coast, who went on to secure a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Though Princeton lacks a WNBA caliber talent like UK’s star guard Rhyne Howard, the Tigers’ senior point guard, Abby Meyers, has averaged 17.8 points per game this season, shooting 45 percent for the year.

The numbers put Meyers as a top-60 scorer in the country, and though Howard is 15th with 20.6 points per game, the Princeton guard could create chaos if Kentucky gets caught lacking defensively.

On the defensive end of the ball, Princeton looks to be a better rebounding team than Kentucky on paper, averaging 39.5 boards per game compared to UK’s 37.4.

Princeton sophomore Ellie Mitchell averages 10.3 rebounds per game, and though she only averaged 6.5 points, is a serious double-double threat that Kentucky will need to stay alert for.

Speaking of double-doubles, Kentucky’s leading rebounder, junior forward Dre’una Edwards, averages 8.2 rebounds per game as well as 16.9 points per game, having notched 11 double-doubles on the season, including two in the SEC Tournament.

Edwards also poses more than just a threat in the paint, however, with the star also gaining nationwide recognition after nailing the game-winning 3-pointer to push Kentucky past South Carolina in the SEC title game.

Though Edwards is no ace from beyond the arch on the season, she has been perfecting the shot in recent games and picking her shot more effectively, shooting a combined 80 percent from deep in Kentucky’s final two games of the SEC Tournament.

The Wildcats also score an average of 72.5 points per game, beating out Princeton’s 68.8, as well as besting the Tigers in field goal percentage for the season by a couple of percentage points.

One concern for the Wildcats entering the matchup is the fact that Princeton has held its opponents to an average of 50.9 points per game this season, holding many of its conference opponents to less than 40 points on multiple occasions.

While it is certainly a factor to consider that the quality of opponents is lesser in the Ivy League, a number as low as 50.9 implies the Tigers are a strong defensive team that will be crafting a game plan to limit UK’s scoring opportunities come the first round.

Kentucky, while sturdy on defense as well in most instances, has allowed 65.8 points per game this season, with that number slightly skewed by dominant performances early in the season over the likes of North Alabama, Presbyterian and Merrimack.

Stepping back from the specific statistics, Kentucky will have not played in over two weeks entering its first round matchup, bringing up the age-old conversation surrounding rest or rust.

Princeton won its conference tournament one day prior to Selection Sunday, getting less rest before the tournament but likely being able to maintain its momentum better, which could make or break a team like the Tigers in March.

Kentucky got no favors with its 2022 bracket, and the first round will be no different. Princeton against Kentucky has all the makings of a thrilling first round matchup that might not have been on many viewers’ radars.

The Round of 64 matchup is currently scheduled to begin on Saturday, March 19, from Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. EST.