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O'Neill going home, Cats heading to Queens with two seed in NCAA Tournament

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Kentucky will travel to Queens, N.Y., near the hometown of point guard Jennifer O'Neill. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky will travel to Queens, N.Y., near the hometown of point guard Jennifer O'Neill. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky women's basketball team is going to the Big Apple, but don't expect sightseeing to be a priority this weekend.

Earning a two seed for the second year in a row, the Wildcats will be paired up with Navy for their first-round game at 12:05 ET at Carnesecca Arena with the winner of host St. John's and Dayton waiting on the other side.

Kentucky's body of work, despite a disappointing loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, was more than enough to give UK the  second seed in the Bridgeport Regional. It was a favorable draw for the Wildcats as the coaching staff had circled Queens, N.Y., as its most coveted first- and second-round landing spot.

"We were so excited about that possibility," said an energetic Matthew Mitchell. "As you work your way through the options, you sort of felt like we were a two seed, so you started at places you could possibly go. When Queens looked like some place we could go, clearly with Jennifer (O'Neill) and Jelleah (Sydney), that was the most exciting and attractive place for us."

O'Neill and Sidney each hail from New York, and no one in Mitchell's jam-packed basement watching ESPN's Selection Show was more elated than O'Neill when "Kentucky" flashed up on the television in the Queens bracket.

"(O'Neill's) the most excited," said SEC co-Player of the Year A'dia Mathies. "She didn't even want to fill out her bracket any more, but I mean it's good because we'll have a lot of support up in New York."

With all of O'Neill's teammates coming to her home city, she would love to be able to show them all of the sights and sounds that New York has to offer. But with Kentucky on a business trip and not vacation, she's not sure if they'll have time.

"If we have a chance to do that, I would love to, but I don't think that's going to happen," said O'Neill with an irrepressible smile on her face.

The bracket sets up nicely for Kentucky with the Wildcats drawing UConn as their No. 1 seed and likely Elite Eight matchup if UK were to make it that far. Last season, the Wildcats did. And last season, they played the Huskies in that very game.

Storylines would write themselves if that matchup came to pass for the second consecutive season.

The Cats hung with one-seeded UConn for the whole first half, but things got away from them as UK could not put a full 40 minutes together. That game alone was inspiration for Kentucky's "40 minutes" campaign this season after the Cats saw that they could hang with the Huskies despite dropping the game, 80-65.

With UConn in the same regional once again, Mitchell and company would relish in the opportunity of a rematch.

"Boy, that would be great because that would mean we were in the final eight," said Mitchell." (There's) A lot of basketball between us and that matchup, but we would certainly be very excited to play in the Elite Eight, and it's going to be a really tough road with some quality teams in our bracket.

"We definitely learned a lot from that game last year. We felt like we made some improvements this year because we were able to compete against an excellent program, and UConn tests you in a lot of different ways, so it's interesting."

Kentucky is still learning from that game. Just today Mitchell had his team watching video from last season's UConn matchup.

"I think it's definitely interesting," said Mathies. "I think, we watched film actually today on that game and how it slipped away little by little, but we know we're a different team this year and we feel like if we do the things necessary, the things we should be doing, then we definitely should make the Final Four."

Mathies, who was named to the SEC All-Tournament team after multiple dynamic performances in Duluth, Ga., two weekends ago, is still disappointed with the loss in the championship game to Texas A&M. She was adamant leading up to UK's first game that the Cats were the team to beat in the tournament, and not delivering in the manner that they did was not acceptable.

Now she'll look to make an impression in this 2013 NCAA Tournament as she plays in her final games in a Kentucky uniform, and like the SEC Tournament, she thinks if they take care of business, they can win it.

"I think confidence is a big thing," said Mathies. "We definitely feel like we should have won the SEC (Tournament), we just didn't come out. We were very lethargic in the championship game, and we know that that's not acceptable. If we come out and play the way we should be playing, then a game like that won't happen and we should win every game here on out."

For now, Kentucky can't look too far ahead with Navy on Sunday. In order for the Cats to have that opportunity to meet with Geno Auriemma's Huskies, they'll first have to take care of each step along the way. Mitchell doesn't know much about the Midshipmen yet, but he knows that if they've made the field, they've done the work to deserve it. And he'll make sure he and his staff works hard to be ready this weekend.

"Clearly they've done a great job to be in the tournament," said Mitchell. "We will be prepared to investigate everything we can about them and find out what we face here in that first round game."

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