UK Hoops earns No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament



By Boyd Hayes | @KernelHayes

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For the second year running, UK Hoops has been selected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats will face No. 15 seed Navy in the first round of the tourney in Queens, N.Y.

“We’re excited to be in the tournament again and to get a two-seed for the second year in a row,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It shows you that the team accomplished a lot over the season and they’re considered one of the top eight teams in the country.”

Despite finishing second in the SEC in both the regular season and the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., the Cats have secured the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport, Conn. region, where Connecticut is the No. 1 seed. The Huskies eliminated the Cats from the tournament last season.

“It would be great to play (Connecticut) again, because that would mean we were in the final eight,” Mitchell said. “We would certainly be very excited to play in the Elite Eight again. It’s going to be a real tough road. (There are) some real quality teams in our bracket, but we definitely learned a lot from that game last year.”

At the head of the Cats’ cause is senior guard A’dia Mathies, the repeat SEC Co-Player of the Year, who has brought 15.9 points per game and 40.8 percent three-point shooting to the court for UK this season. In the SEC, Mathies averaged 18.2 points per game, and she has been named as one of 15 John R. Wooden Award finalists. The award is given to the national player of the year.

“It’s very exciting just to be in the NCAA Tournament again, and to get a seed like we did – a No. 2 seed – is a reason we feel like we can definitely make it to the Final Four,” Mathies said. “I’m just very excited and ready to get started.”

Navy (21-11) is coming off of a third consecutive Patriot League championship, defeating Holy Cross, 72-53, Saturday. A trio of juniors lead Navy statistically, with forward Jade Geif providing 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, guard Alix Membreno averaging 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and guard Kara Stapleton adding 10.8 points per game.

“Don’t know much about Navy except for one of our former players is an assistant coach there. I really admire what Jenerrie Harris has been able to do, as she has been able to rise through the profession,” Mitchell said. “Clearly they’ve done a great job to be in the tournament, so we will be prepared to investigate everything we can about them and find out what we face here in this first round game.”

Seven SEC teams made the tournament in all, including UK, No. 8 seed Vanderbilt, No. 2 seed Tennessee, No. 3 seed Texas A&M, No. 4 seed South Carolina, No. 4 seed Georgia and No. 6 seed LSU.

The Cats are 8-4 so far this season against SEC teams that made the tournament. Losses were handed to the Cats by South Carolina, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.

UK is 4-1 against non-SEC teams that made the tournament, beating Louisville, DePaul, Marist and Middle Tennessee, with the single defeat coming at Baylor in the second game of the regular season on Nov. 13.

The Cats will face Navy on Sunday, March 24, at 12:05 p.m. in Queens.