Defense key in Cats’ Elite Eight game against Oklahoma


The UK Hoops played Nebraska in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Sweet 16 Tournament on Sunday, March 28, 2010 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Photo by Brandon Goodwin

KANSAS CITY, Mo.–March is known for its madness, but the Kansas City Regional is starting to experience downright lunacy.

On Sunday night, second-seeded Notre Dame fell to third-seeded Oklahoma (26-10), and top-seeded Nebraska lost to fourth-seeded UK (28-7). The respective results set up an Elite Eight matchup between two teams that have become more accustomed to the role of underdog all season.

“We’ve been talking about how we are the underdog this whole season, but (UK) comes in thinking that they are more of the underdog for tomorrow night’s game,” said OU junior guard and leading scorer Danielle Robinson.

UK is making their first Elite Eight appearance in the modern format of the NCAA Tournament, whereas the Sooners have established themselves as a legitimate contender in head coach Sherri Coale’s 13-year tenure. OU has two Final Four appearances this decade, including one last season, and has familiarity playing on the biggest stage with a berth in the NCAA Tournament every year this decade, too.

However this season, OU finished in third place in the Big 12 behind Nebraska and Iowa State and posted a 2-6 record against teams that finished in the top-five of the conference making this tournament run anything but a shoe-in.

Likewise, UK didn’t fair much better against its top-tier conference opponents with a 3-5 record vs. top-five Southeastern Conference schools.

Yet at this point, each team’s regular season play seems to have taken a backseat, and both teams could hardly be considered an underdog, especially given their close seeding.

Still, UK will be in for yet another test from a team  believing it has been battle tested by the rigors of conference play and thus, can adequately deal with UK’s pressure defense.

“Well I think we have a pretty good guess (of what to expect from UK’s defense) because we play in the Big 12 South. If anything can prepare you for that, it is that,” said Coale, who likened UK’s defensive pressure to Texas A&M’s, an opponent OU faced three times this season. Coale added, A&M boasts more length than UK will, but UK is the quicker team “if that’s even humanly possible.”

Just as he has done all year, UK head coach Matthew Mitchell emphasized UK’s defense to the media present at the pre-game news conference, as he echoed Coale’s sentiments.

“I think (the game) will be won for us on the defensive end, and we will have to do a good job,” Mitchell said. “The reason we have progressed, and we’re in the position we are now is because (we) never grew weary of the (defensive) fundamentals.”

As good as UK’s defense has been in the tournament, OU’s offense has been clicking in their past three games. The Sooners have shot better than 40 percent from the field in five of six halves they’ve played so far in the tournament.

“I do think our (offensive) rhythm is good,” Coale said. “I think we’re sharing it, and I think that begins with Danielle Robinson.”

Mitchell called Robinson a taller version of his own point guard, junior Amber Smith.

Smith, the smallest player on UK’s undersized roster, who has relished the role of underdog her entire career because of her height, viewed the matchup with Robinson as more than a dual between two individuals.

“I look at (this) as an opportunity, and I mean, we’re just going to play (Robinson) like we have been playing everybody else, and we’re going to pressure her,” Smith said. “We’re going to pressure the whole team … it’s a great opportunity, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”