Cats ready for program’s biggest game


The Kentucky Women’s basketball team celebrates after defeating the Liberty Flames in the first round of NCAA tournament play at Freedom Hall on Saturday, March 20, 2010. Photo by Scott Hannigan

For the UK women’s basketball team, big games like the one on Sunday come around only once every 28 years.

In fact, calling it a big game might be a gross understatement.

The fourth-seeded Cats’ (27-7) Sweet 16 game against the Kansas City Regional’s top seed, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, could very well qualify as the biggest game in program history. With only one other appearance in the regional semifinal, in 1982, the Cats are on the cusp of rewriting the UK record books.

“If anything, this team has a good chance of advancing in the next round,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “That’s all they need to worry about. There have been a lot of milestones with this team, and to their credit, they have not stopped to smell the roses.”

UK will have little time to soak in the atmosphere at the Sprint Center, let alone smell the roses, when trying to escape the Huskers’ pressing defensive scheme, which is similar to UK’s.

The parallels between the Cats and Huskers (32-1) don’t end with defensive strategies, however.

Nebraska may be the one team in the nation to claim it has been more of a surprise success than the Cats this year. Following a 15-16 campaign last year, the Huskers, by no means a traditional basketball powerhouse, weren’t pegged as a team likely to earn a No. 1 seed with the same core of players returning.

Yet the Huskers not only became the first team in NCAA history to become a No. 1 seed after a season in which it failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but also set school and Big 12 records with a 30-game win streak en route to their first conference title. Twenty-eight of their wins were by double digits.

And just like UK, Nebraska touts a talented conference Player of the Year in Kelsey Griffin. Junior forward Victoria Dunlap will have the opportunity to challenge Griffin, who averages a double-double, after winning the battle on the boards against Michigan State’s front line in the second round.

“We’re just going to take (Sunday’s game) like any other game,” said freshman guard A’dia Mathies, who is averaging a team-high 20 points per game through the first two rounds. “We’re just going to play Kentucky ball: play aggressive, play defense.”

“Kentucky ball” is what has carried the Cats to this unprecedented position, and the players said continued execution is a necessary part of the game plan now that UK is left among the nation’s elite.

“We can’t get satisfied now, even though we are going to the Sweet 16,” Dunlap said. “I’m pretty sure coach is going to tell us we can’t settle for where we’ve gone.”