POSTSEASON PREVIEW: Inexperienced Cats holding own to get into tourney


The UK women’s basketball team meets after their 70-62 loss against Tennessee for the SEC tournament at the Gwinnett Center on Sunday, March 7, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

The Cats will be dancing for the first time since 2005-06.

Although UK’s place in the women’s NCAA Tournament won’t become official until Selection Monday, the No. 19 Cats (25-7, 11-5 Southeastern Conference), runners-up in the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament, simply have to sit and wait to find out where and when they’ll play in the field of 64.

“I know that many consider it a down year in the SEC, but I don’t think anyone thought (UK) would be this good,” said Chris Hansen of ESPN’s HoopGurlz. “(The Cats) were criticized early on for not scheduling a difficult non-conference schedule, but league play has rendered that criticism moot.”

ESPN women’s college basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme projects UK as a No. 4 seed in the Kansas City Regional. The Cats’ projected opponent is the Horizon League’s Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix (26-3), which was in the top 25 for eight consecutive weeks during the season, reaching as high as a No. 14 ranking in the coaches’ poll in week 10.

According to Creme’s projection, UK would head west to Seattle for the first two rounds and play on a Saturday/Monday schedule.

Most importantly, the Cats current projection has them avoiding the Connecticut Huskies, who are riding an NCAA women’s basketball record 71-game win streak, as the top seed in their region.

“No team, regardless of seeding, wants to be in Connecticut’s region,” Hansen said. “(UConn) has the tourney experience, elite players at multiple positions and players that put winning over statistics.”

The Cats’ performance against Tennessee this Sunday proved they are capable of sticking around against an elite team, especially when junior forward Victoria Dunlap is on her game. Creme has the Volunteers projected as a No. 1 seed.

Dunlap heads into the NCAA Tournament after being named to the SEC All-Tournament Team. She averaged a little more than 22 points and seven rebounds in UK’s three tournament games.

“I think people forget that Victoria Dunlap was a highly-touted recruit,” Hansen said. “We ranked her in the top 60 based on her athletic potential and she’s lived up to it and then some.”

Both UK and Dunlap show no signs of slowing down, but the relatively young Cats — only Amani Franklin and Lydia Watkins are seniors — will be experiencing something completely new come tournament time.

In fact, the only player with NCAA Tournament experience for UK is sophomore guard Rebecca Gray, a true freshman on the 2008 North Carolina team that reached the regional final.

Even UK head coach Matthew Mitchell will be making his first tournament appearance as a head coach, following back-to-back WNIT appearances in his first two years at UK.

Although UK’s tournament run may be unpredictable, the postseason experience will be good for the upward trend of the program, Hansen said.

“With some good young players returning (UK) should continue to compete at the top of the SEC and for tournament bids (in the future),” Hansen said.