UK advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 84-70 win over Dayton on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The eyes of the women's basketball world will be trained on Bridgeport, Conn., this weekend.
The Bridgeport Regional features a pair of programs with national-championship pedigrees in Connecticut and Maryland. Joining them are a six seed with one of the nation's top players - Delaware and Elena Delle Donne - and one of the game's ascendant programs - Kentucky.
"I think it's fantastic to be in that environment," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said on Thursday. "I think it is very important that you recognize excellence in your sport and you strive for that in your sport and that's what we're trying to do."
The storylines are too many to count, but they will all be explored in the coming days. And as thankful as Mitchell is for his team to have the chance to play on such a stage, he knows guarding against potential distractions is a must with important basketball yet to be played.
Mitchell is always mindful of such things, but his concern is minimal. Kentucky (29-5) has had its missteps, but the Wildcats have overcome all sorts of obstacles to reach their third Sweet 16 in four seasons. They have taken on five teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament and the Cats feel as prepared as any team reasonably could.
"It is a fine, fine line now about winning and losing and advancing, so I have no doubt we can compete as far as what's happened up to this season," Mitchell said. "I think we've proven we can play at a high level, now we just have to go do it."
At perhaps no point this season has UK overcome more trying circumstances and played at a high level than Tuesday in the second round. With seventh-seeded and No. 18/15 Dayton waiting, a stomach virus spread rapidly among the Wildcats.
A'dia Mathies, Kastine Evans, Azia Bishop and Samarie Walker were among the players confirmed to be under the weather at some point during the game, but UK was undeterred. Mathies tied her career-high with 34 points and the Cats turned an impressive overall effort in an 84-70 victory to keep their season alive. After everything they dealt with, the Cats help but look back on Tuesday night with pride.
"I think (it was UK's most satisfying win) because it could have been an easy game where we went down and just gave up and not fought and just said that we've got people sick and came out with a loss (against) a great Dayton team," Mathies said. "We definitely pushed through that and made it to the Sweet 16."
Two days later and hours away from flying back to the Northeast, the Cats were fully healthy and without any lingering effects from the illness than struck with speed reminiscent of UK's "40 minutes of dread" defense.
With the bug behind them, the Cats shift their attention to sixth-seeded and No. 15/16 Delaware (32-3) for a game on Saturday (noon ET on ESPN). Winners of 27 in a row, the Blue Hens are led by Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 do-it-all star. She is unquestionably one of the nation's best players, posting per-game averages of 25.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
"She's just an all-around talent," Mathies said. "She has great post-up moves and she's got guard skills. She can rebound, block shots. She can pretty much do everything, especially for somebody to be 6-5. We're just looking for a great game and she's going to be a great matchup for whoever has to check her."
In the midst of her senior season, Delle Donne has been arguably the top story of the tournament, averaging 33 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games. But as good as she is, the Cats know viewing the game as one on five is the quickest road to defeat.
"To me, I think you're making a big mistake if you put it solely on one player," Mitchell said. "She's very important obviously to what they want to do because she's so talented, but we'll be really trying to make this more about our team and the Kentucky team and how we do what we do well."
That's a lesson UK learned the hard way two games into the season. The last time the Cats took on a team with a player as highly regarded as Delle Donne, they fell in blowout fashion against Baylor and Brittney Griner.
"I think it's more so based on what we do instead of worrying about what they do and us making open shots and doing things like that that we didn't do when we played against Baylor," Mathies said. "I think that can really help us out a lot and if we just focus on us then we should have a good outcome in any game we play from here on out."
It's no accident that Mathies says "from here on out" rather than just "against Delaware." She and the Cats are different in that they don't hide their Final Four goals behind a veneer of "one game at a time." They, however, don't allow that attitude to be a burden.
"We think we have a chance to do it," Mitchell said. "We think we have a fighting chance going up there that we could possibly do it with the four teams that are up there. (There are) Certainly no guarantees. I wouldn't call it pressure; I'd call it just a burning desire to try to get it done."
Particularly for Mathies, the best descriptor is "quiet confidence."
"We're just going to go out there and play," Mathies said. "If we give our best effort, then we should be able to advance to the Final Four, but it's no pressure. We're just going to go out there and do what we're used to doing."
Battling illness, A'dia Mathies tied a career high with 34 points to lead UK to a second-round victory over Dayton. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
After senior guard A'dia Mathies played a distinctly un-Mathies-like game in the opening round, she seemed back to full strength Tuesday night with a career-high tying 34 points to come to her teammates rescue.
She was far from it.
While it wasn't quite Michael Jordan's legendary "Flu Game," Mathies was positively Jordan-esque at times against Dayton on Tuesday.
"Tonight was very surprising. It was a very surprising game," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. "We referenced 'His Airness' before the game."
Little did he know.
As staff member after staff member and then player after player seemed to come into contact with a stomach virus in Queens over the last few days, it finally struck the hardest at the most inopportune of times. Several Wildcats were limited in the afternoon's shoot-around with several players feeling the effects of a common sickness.
No one knew what to expect come game time.
"It was not a good day as a coach. A lot of uncertainty in the day," said Mitchell. "Very, very low energy at practice and it did not seem like people were feeling great."
Azia Bishop wasn't on the floor for introductions. Kastine Evans quickly asked for a breather early into the first half and Samarie Walker delayed the game momentarily as she tried to find the nearest trash can.
Mathies wasn't feeling her best either, and her body language during shoot-around and before the game suggested she was headed for another rough NCAA Tournament game.
Instead, Mathies and her teammates pushed on to defeat Dayton 84-70 and advance to yet another Sweet 16 in the Bridgeport, Conn., Regional.
Though Kentucky was at less-than-full strength and seemed the Cats would not have the energy that Mitchell had hoped for, their play from tipoff would suggest otherwise. After Mitchell implored his team to come out with high energy and defensive intensity after their first-round win over Navy, the Wildcats were quick to answer the bell.
Within the first few moments of the game, Evans needed a breather. Enter sophomore Bria Goss, who had gone from starter to reserve earlier in the season. Goss filled in admirably and provided instant energy to a physically limited lineup. She was active, aggressive and tough, giving UK the boost it needed.
Mitchell had a feeling that she would be instrumental to UK's success.
"We're really fortunate because we still had Bria and Bernisha (Pinkett) who could pick the ball up and pressure it all the way down the court," said Mitchell. "If I had only had one, I would have thought about changing the game plan."
Goss gave Kentucky six points in 16 huge first-half minutes. With her teammates responding, it was full speed ahead.
Dayton ball-handlers had two or three Wildcats in their face at all times as the Cats trapped and pressured the ball into 14 first-half turnovers, including seven steals. Those turnovers led to UK taking 16 more shots in the first half than the Flyers as Kentucky shot it at a 45.9-percent (17-of-37) clip.
Mathies was the driving force behind the UK offense in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first 20 minutes to pace UK who had lost DeNesha Stallworth in the post to foul trouble. But it actually took the senior standout awhile to get going. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, Mathies managed six points. She would score nine in the final 10 minutes of the half to reach the 15-point plateau to lead all scorers at the break.
In Kentucky's win over Navy on Sunday, it was UK's quick start in the second half that sparked UK to a 20-point victory. With the Cats leading by nine at the half, Dayton quickly cut into that lead in less than two minutes into the second half to make the deficit four at 50-46.
It was Dayton who came out the aggressor early in the second half as the Flyers looked to fight their way back into the game. There was also a feeling that UK had lost its adrenaline surge and the illness was starting to catch up across the board.
Mathies took her first-round performance pretty hard. She was quiet after the game and was visibly frustrated by her efforts despite the victory. Scoring just five points in the game, UK was able to overcome her difficulties.
On Tuesday night, it was Mathies playing both redeemer and heroine on the hardwood.
"I know that I'm a big part of this team," said Mathies. "I knew that I had to go out and have a great game. Everyone was telling me that, 'You're going to have a big game,' especially with how it was last game. I just went out there and played as hard as I could."
Possession after possession, Mathies would come down the floor and if she saw an opening, she was in the type of groove that she was going to take any shot Dayton would give her. And that shot, 76 percent of the time, would fall through the hoop.
Mathies was a staggering 13 of 17 from the field, including a career-best 6 of 7 from 3-point land. It was also the most field goals that she had ever made in a game in her career.
But In a game Kentucky really controlled most of the way, Dayton was able to scratch back to within two of the Wildcats.
That's when Mathies did her best Air Jordan impression.
She wreaked havoc on defense and came up with a huge steal with the possession ending on a nice mid-range jumper that she sank with ease. On the following possession, Jennifer O'Neill found a cutting Mathies under the basket and she deftly finished a reverse layup to push the lead back to six. To close things out, Mathies would hit half of her 3-pointers in the final 11:33. UK never led by less than eight points as the Cats cruised to a 14-point victory.
Mathies' 34 points were good to tie her career-high output and outdo her best NCAA Tournament performance which came on a 32-point performance her freshman campaign. As the Cats advance to a third Sweet 16 in four years, even Mitchell can hardly process what he just witnessed from his superstar player.
"She just felt terrible. I mean she really felt bad," said Mitchell. "It was a definite Michael Jordan-esque performance. It was an unbelievable performance."
Men's basketball - Kentucky fell 59-57 at Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT, after advancing to postseason -play for the 22nd-consecutive year. - Freshman Archie Goodwin led the team in scoring with 18 points, while junior Jarrod Polson logged 10. - Goodwin went 8-of-8 at the free throw line, which was the second-most made free throws in an NIT game in UK history.
Women's basketball - DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O'Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over 15th-seeded Navy on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA women's tournament. - After trailing by a point at halftime, UK outscored Navy 35-16 in the second half to move onto the second round of the NCAA women's tournament. - The 20-point win is the largest margin of victory for Kentucky in a NCAA Tournament game. - The 41 points surrendered by UK is the lowest total for an NCAA Tournament game in school history.
Gymnastics - The No. 19 Kentucky gymnastics team placed eighth with a 194.6 team score at the SEC Championship. - Kentucky finishes the regular season with a school-record regional qualifying score of 196.06. - The Wildcats now await their NCAA regional fate, which will be revealed on the NCAA Gymnastics Championship Selection Show on Monday, March 25 at 3 p.m. - UK tied its season-high floor score with a 49.125, a total which also tied for highest at session I. - Kayla Hartley's floor routine turned plenty of heads as she produced a career-high tying score of 9.9.
Softball - The No. 21 Kentucky softball team got back to its winning ways over the weekend with a three-game sweep of Mississippi State at home. The series win was the second of the season for UK, who is now 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play heading into its bye weekend. UK also earned a 7-1 midweek win over WKU on Tuesday. - The Wildcat offense was the difference in the weekend series, scoring 15 runs on 24 hits with two doubles and seven home runs against a MSU pitching staff that entered the weekend ranked 22nd nationally in earned-run average. Senior Alice O'Brien paced the Wildcats with a .500 average with one double, two home runs - one a walkoff, 10th-inning home run - and three RBI. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also hit .500 in the series with a home run and two runs scored. The other four home runs came from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, junior outfielder Emily Jolly and two from freshman Maisie Steed. - In Tuesday's 7-1 victory over Western Kentucky, Nikki Sagermann was the offensive star in the game for Kentucky, going 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, including her first collegiate home run. - True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the series, going 2-0 and not allowing a run the entire weekend. Nunley pitched nine innings in relief Friday night to get the win before throwing a complete-game shutout in game two Saturday. Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 on the weekend with a 2.62 ERA after earning a no-decision Friday night and a win in game one Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings.
Baseball - The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, spurred by a doubleheader sweep on Saturday. - Kentucky won its second consecutive series to open league play, also claiming the conference lidlifter at Florida last weekend. - Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week. He contributed to UK's walk-off win in the rubber match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win. - Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday. The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring - On the mound, UK has a 2.55 ERA, walking just 55 and striking out 176 in 205 innings.
Men's tennis - No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up one of the biggest wins of his career on Sunday as he collected a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 7 KU Singh as UK fell 4-2 to Georgia. The win for Rossi was his 98th-career win and he now is just two wins shy of becoming the 15th player in UK tennis history to eclipse the 100-win mark. - UK returns to action on Friday as the Wildcats take on No. 29 Alabama at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. The weekend will continue on Sunday as Kentucky faces off against Auburn.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 0-2 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2. - Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team competed in their third tournament of the spring, finishing eighth in the 14-team field at the 2013 LSU Tiger Golf Classic. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded her second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for seventh at 9-overpar. She was 7-over after the first round before firing team-lows and back-to-back rounds of 1-over-par to climb the leaderboard - Kentucky returns to the links April 5-7 at the Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford, Miss.
Swimming and diving - Sophomores Christa Cabot and Christina Bechtel each made their NCAA Championships debut over the weekend in Indianapolis, Ind. Cabot competed in all three diving events while Bechtel swam in the 100-butterfly. - Bechtel was unable to qualify for the finals in the 100-butterfly, but finished in 25th overall with a preliminary time of 53.06, her best prelim time of her career. - Cabot's best finish came in the 3-meter springboard where she finished in 18th place with a six-dive score of 307.60.
Monday, March 25 Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Tuesday, March 26 Women's basketball vs. Dayton - 7:00 p.m. (Queens, N.Y.) Softball at Western Kentucky - 8:00 p.m. Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Wednesday, March 27 Baseball hosts Marshall - 3:00 p.m. Softball at Lipscomb - 7:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Thursday, March 28 Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Friday, March 29 Men's tennis hosts Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Alabama - 4:00 p.m. Softball hosts Tennessee - 5:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Saturday, March 30 Baseball hosts Georgia - 2:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Matthew Mitchell talks at Monday's practice as UK prepares for its second-round matchup with Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When Kentucky and Dayton square off in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night, it won't be the first time that they've gone toe-to-toe in the last calendar year. But it has been since October that these two teams scrimmaged, so it might take awhile for them to recognize one another.
As most teams do in the preseason, Kentucky held a closed scrimmage with the Dayton Flyers as they have over the last few seasons. Due to the proximity of the schools and the relationship between UK head coach Matthew Mitchell and UD coach Jim Jabir, the teams have developed a friendly rivalry that takes place before the real games get underway.
"We don't play each other in the regular season and we're in different leagues, so we can really be open with each other in the process of playing and it's been really good work for us," Mitchell said at Monday's press conference. "Jim's been really good about setting up situations and going through different things. They're very competitive and we're very competitive, so I think for both teams it's been a good development for us."
As fate would have it, both teams were shipped from the Midwest to the East Coast with the opportunity to reconvene in Queens, N.Y., for the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky seemed to be in for a bit of a scare after one half of play had the Cats trailing by a point to 15th-seeded Navy. A reinvigorated Wildcat squad led by a collective defensive clinic helped UK hold Navy to 15 points in the second half to carry Kentucky to a 20-point first-round victory, its largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game.
Dayton, a No. 7 seed, was in for quite a battle as well, facing host and No. 10 seed St. John's. It was a back and forth affair as Dayton seemed to have control, but with the crowd at its back, the Red Storm forced overtime. Dayton would ultimately prevail after an additional overtime period to pull off the 96-90 double-overtime victory.
Mitchell doesn't believe that the extra wear and tear on Dayton should be an issue for the Flyers after getting a day of rest on Monday. However, he does feel that much like his team showed in the second half against Navy, Kentucky needs to come out with great energy and intensity to get the win Tuesday night.
"I don't know that yesterday's game will have anything to do with that," said Mitchell. "I think that we need to really be tenacious on defense because they're such a good team. We played early (Sunday) and I think they'll have plenty of time to recover. People have a funny way of getting ready to play this time of year so I don't think that the double overtime is going to impact it and I think we need to focus us."
Just like Mitchell doesn't expect Sunday's Dayton game to affect Tuesday's outcome, senior guard and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies knows her performance from Sunday won't affect her attitude heading into the second round.
Mathies, for the first time in her collegiate career - and maybe for the first time in her life - played a game without making a field goal. Though she did not make much of an impact offensively, she was still a factor defensively in UK's 20-point route of the Midshipmen.
"She made some great defensive plays yesterday," said Mitchell. "We went back and watched the film and she made a few defensive plays that I don't think anybody could have made. I think she did some good things there. She got some loose balls. Shots didn't fall for her, but she'll play better tomorrow."
Mathies has similar expectations, though she's more than willing to do whatever it takes for her team to win.
"I feel like that's how I am with any game," said Mathies. "It might not show up in the stat sheet with getting 12 steals or 15 boards, but I feel like if you play aggressive and do the little things, that should help and that's what I'm going to focus on."
That's what Mitchell is looking for out of his team: to focus on Kentucky and not worry so much about its opponent. If the Wildcats continue to play their brand of basketball, the rest should take care of itself.
That's also why Mitchell doesn't put too much stock in his team's preseason meeting with the Flyers. While those around the program say that the scrimmage was close and competitive, the two teams on that day likely have completely different identities than way back in October.
"I think it would be a mistake for either team to take very much from the scrimmage. It was real, real early and we didn't have a lot of things in," said Mitchell. "It's a long, long time ago and I don't know how much you can put in that especially at that stage of the season."
At that point in the season, UK has yet to implement its offense or its press. That scrimmage is usually a way for Mitchell and his staff to gauge where they are defensively.
Fast forward from October late March, and the Cats have a pretty good grasp on just how tough they are defensively. They will look to use that as their major weapon against Dayton Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET at Carnesecca Arena and any other opponents they may face along the way if they continue to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think with any game we just want to keep the pressure on and wear them down," said Mathies. "Just knowing that they've got 10 extra minutes on their legs and that could potentially help us on the long run, I really think we need to put a focus on that and take them out of the comfort zone. I think we're the best team at doing that, so just playing aggressive and playing hard and I think that should help us in the end."
Jennifer O'Neill's big second half in her return home to New York sent Kentucky past Navy and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell believed the two weeks between games was good for his team.
He was right and he was wrong, depending on what half of basketball you watched Sunday afternoon in Kentucky's NCAA Tournament first-round game with Navy.
The Wildcats looked rusty and a bit out of sorts after the layoff. Though Mitchell was encouraged by his team's effort and energy in practice over the past two weeks, no one was sure what to expect when the team finally got back on the floor. It didn't take long to find out how much the time off would affect the team.
Navy came out and gave UK its best shot from the tip and caught the Wildcats off guard. Kentucky was out of rhythm and struggled putting the ball in the basket for much of the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Navy was getting exactly what it wanted.
The Midshipmen were overmatched athletically, and they knew that coming in. They wanted to slow the game down, move the ball, exploit Kentucky's trapping on defense, and shoot a lot of 3s. In the first half, those were falling and the Wildcats were staggering.
Kentucky did not look like Kentucky. They were rusty.
"I thought we were really off-balanced and rushing around the rim," said Mitchell. "Where the rust might come through is we're a very rhythm-oriented team defensively and we were just a step or two late on some rotations. I thought we were giving some good effort in traps, but late on rotations."
Navy knocked down five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the game and completely grabbed the momentum, eventually building a seven-point lead with 6:29 left to go in the first half. But Kentucky relied on its full-court pressure defensively to scrap back. Kentucky had a chance to head into the locker room with the lead, eventually grabbing a one-point advantage, but Navy's April Bernal hit a jumper with 36 seconds left to give the Midshipmen a 26-25 lead at intermission.
When the Wildcats came out for the second half, they came out a different team, or a more familiar one that Mitchell had been accustomed to seeing for 27 wins this season.
Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper and her players noted that UK played a brand of basketball that they had never seen before, when in reality, Kentucky was just getting back to its old ways.
The second half started out with a readjusted Jennifer O'Neill who decided to start imposing her will. After trying to let the game come to her for the first half, she began attacking and asserting herself on both ends of the floor.
O'Neill blitzed Navy with a personal seven-point run in the first minute and 13 seconds and before Navy could blink, a one-point advantage turned into a four-point deficit. While the offensive outburst was impressive, the key to it may have been a purely defensive spark.
"The run was sparked by Jennifer O'Neill's defensive intensity," said Mitchell. "She scored a bunch of points and assisted on some points, but I really thought it was her defensive intensity coming out of the break."
Kentucky's team defense turned up a notch as well in the second half.
The Cats forced Navy into 14 second-half turnovers including four steals by O'Neill in the half alone. Without her decision to come out and impact the game, the Wildcats may not have ever gotten on a roll.
"I do feel like I am changing the game because my teammates start going," said O'Neill. "Coming into the media timeout, Coach Mitchell ran out to me and he was telling me, 'Now we are playing like this because you are playing defense and you are being intense on defense.' "
O'Neill finished with a big day in her homecoming in New York, scoring 12 points with four assists to go along with five steals. While she set the tone defensively and was a necessary sparkplug for the Cats, DeNesha Stallworth was steady throughout in the post.
The UK center worked well in tandem with post mate Samarie Walker. Kentucky's size coupled with its athleticism made it hard for Navy to contain the Wildcats on the block.
Stallworth scored nine points in each half to finish with a game-high 18 points to earn a double-double in her first NCAA Tournament game as a Wildcat. With Kentucky struggling to get anything going offensively through the first 20 minutes of action, it was the work done in the post that helped weather the storm.
"I felt like we were just a little rusty," said Stallworth. "We haven't played in a couple of weeks. I think we played hard, tried to stay focused and not let that bring us down. That was the adversity that we did face. The team did a great job just keeping our heads up and knowing the game is 40 minutes."
Though the first-half performance was unsettling, at no point was there a sense of panic. Due to Kentucky's recent success and another great run in the Southeastern Conference this season, the Wildcats are going to get their opponent's best night in and night out. What Mitchell can always rely on his team's defensive pressure to get UK back on track when the offense isn't flowing.
"There was no panic in the first half because we were pretty clear on what we needed to do to get a different result," said Mitchell. "I knew that if we could get some sharpness to our defense, I felt like we could do what we did in the second half. There was no panic.
"I was just more so trying to get us to settle down offensively. Just really hurrying, poor shot selection from the standpoint of just in a hurry and not letting it come to us and getting better rhythm."
Once Kentucky imposed its will on the defensive end, that was it for Navy. The Midshipmen could never get back into an offensive rhythm themselves in the second half managing just 15 points in the final 20 minutes. UK held Navy to 23.8 percent (5 of 21) from the field in the second half and hit the boards hard to outrebound Navy 43-30.
After Navy hit five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Mids were just barely able to match that point total in the entire second half as they managed just one 3-pointer for the rest of the contest (6 of 22).
Kentucky will try to continue to apply that pressure in the second round, which could be an even greater advantage on Monday. The Wildcats will face Dayton, who defeated St. John's 96-90 in double overtime. With that extra mileage and energy spent to advance, Kentucky will likely look to exploit the Flyers to take advantage of additional wear and tear from a hard-fought overtime battle.
The Wildcats will take on the Flyers at 7 p.m. ET Tuesdat night back at Carnesecca Arena broadcast on ESPN2 as Kentucky looks to continue its quest for a Final Four berth.
"I had a lot of family and friends here, but the game wasn't big because of them," said O'Neill. "The game was big because it's the NCAA Tournament and we have a goal of making it to New Orleans. That what made this game big."