Women’s hoops can brag as much as men



Column by Tim Kroboth

When the UK women’s basketball team tipped off against Boston University in NCAA Division I’s first official game of the 2009-10 season on the morning of Friday, Nov. 13, who imagined the Cats would fall just two games short of the season’s final game?

Apparently, an early start on Friday the 13th wasn’t so unlucky after all.

But before the season began, women’s college basketball experts didn’t think even luck could carry UK Hoops to the NCAA Tournament, much less the Elite Eight.

The Cats had been NIT bound the previous three seasons. The preseason coaches’ poll predicted the UK women would finish 11th in the Southeastern Conference. And the only time the Cats had advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond was so long ago that Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Yet, 2009-10 proved to be the year of revival for both of UK’s college basketball programs.

The men’s turnaround in the2009-10 season under Coach Cal was truly remarkable as John Wall, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins returned Big Blue Nation to its rightful place among the nation’s best.

Under head coach Matthew Mitchell, the UK women’s basketball team’s revival season was equally impressive.

Without much hype or flair, Coach Mitchell’s Cats proved from the outset they would not be outdone by John Wall and Co.

The entire English-speaking world knows Coach Cal’s Cats began the season 19-0, but hidden away in Memorial Coliseum, Coach Mitchell’s Cats quietly went on a season-opening winning streak of their own, going 11-0 as they nearly reached January before their first loss.

The men’s team defended the Rupp Arena hardwood without a loss, but not without a scare or two. Remember Miami of Ohio?

Coach Mitchell’s Cats do. They beat Miami of Ohio 107-53 at Memorial Coliseum: no John Wall heroics necessary. By the way, the UK women also posted an unblemished home record, 17-0. Even more impressively, they won every game by at least 10 points. John Wall and Co. can’t claim that.

Remember when Coach Cal’s Cats struggled for most of the game against Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad before pulling out a 71-62 win?

In a UConn-esque performance against their Cardinal archrivals, Coach Mitchell’s Cats collected 21 steals as they forced a mind-boggling 38 turnovers en route to a 101-67 win.

You may have noticed that to this point I have not named a single UK women’s basketball player. On campus, the women’s team has seemed almost anonymous, eclipsed by the success of Coach Cal’s Cats.

But Wall and Cousins were not the only Cats to be named SEC Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year.

Junior forward Victoria Dunlap and freshman guard A’dia Mathies claimed the same honors. And with Coach Mitchell earning SEC Coach of the Year, UK Hoops became only the second women’s basketball team in SEC history to claim Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

When the NCAA Tournament arrived, Dunlap and Co., matched John Wall and Co., in advancing to the Elite Eight.

Against No. 5 seeded Michigan State and a No. 1-seeded Nebraska team that had lost only once all year, Coach Mitchell’s Cats dominated with speed and defensive pressure.

So, where have you been?

Can I safely assume you never watched a UK women’s basketball game this season until after Coach Cal’s Cats had been eliminated from their NCAA Tournament?

You may claim to be a UK basketball fan, but will you ignore Coach Mitchell’s Cats again next season?

Dunlap and Co. have established themselves as a legitimate program in the SEC, so the excuse to avoid the UK women’s basketball team because they are not very good is gone.