The second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (26-6) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday after defeating McNeese State 68-62. UK's reward? A matchup against seventh-seeded Green Bay, the No. 10 ranked team in the country and losers of just a single game all season.
"They're clearly, in my mind, the best seven seed," UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I think that this possibly slipped through the committee here. This is an incredible team to be a seven seed in this tournament. They're 31-1."
Green Bay is in the second round of the tournament for the third consecutive season after jumping all over Iowa State on Saturday in the Cyclones' home arena. The Phoenix held Iowa State to just 23 points in the first half and forced 30 turnovers.
For followers of the UK Hoops program, those types of numbers should look similar. The Phoenix and Wildcats play eerily similar styles of ball and each find themselves ranked nationally in many of the same statistical categories.
Green Bay is in the top-15 nationally in eight statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, won-lost percentage, assists per game, steals per game, turnover margin and assist-turnover ratio.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is ranked in the top-20 nationally in scoring offense, scoring margin, won-lost percentage, steals per game and turnover margin.
"Their ability to create turnovers is impressive," Mitchell said. "I just think the tougher team tomorrow night is going to win. It's going to come down to which team can make the tougher plays over the course of the game."
Just as Kentucky is led by its conference player of the year, Green Bay too has a conference player of the year on its roster and a national player of the year candidate. Julie Wotja, a senior guard/forward from Francis Creek, Wis., averages a double-double with 19.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Wojta also leads the Phoenix offense with a team-high 3.6 assists per game, and on defense swipes 3.7 steals per game. Wojta ranks in the top-25 nationally in five statistical categories, including points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game, field-goal percentage and double-doubles.
"Wotja is just an amazing kid to watch," Mitchell said. "She has a lot of game, she can make the 3, she took it off the bounce last night, she just is an impressive player. I think you need to do a good job on her but they just strike me as being so balanced and so capable across the board that I don't think we can take her out of the game and that means we win. I think it has to be a focused approach, playing team basketball and trying to do a good job on her. I think she means a ton to Green Bay. ... She looks like an All-American to me."
One big difference between the two schools is depth. While Green Bay has four players who play more than 30 minutes per game, Kentucky does not have one, and has just three players who log more than 20 minutes per game.
Some of that depth comes from Kentucky's forwards. On Saturday, sophomore Samarie Walker tied a UK NCAA Tournament record with 13 rebounds, while sophomore Samantha Drake set a UK NCAA Tournament record with four blocks. It's not about just having those players at your disposal though, Mitchell said, they need to perform.
"We would like for depth to be a factor," Mitchell said. "It's difficult to know what Green Bay is going to do because we don't have any frame of reference on people playing them the way we're going to try and play them. I hope that depth can be a factor. Depth is not merely players on the roster but also performance. You need quality plays from the clearly capable players we have. If our girls play hard then I think depth can be a factor."
And maybe the No. 2 seed can prevail.