Kentucky Selected for School-Record 7th Straight NCAA Tournament


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 12 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team has been selected as an at-large team in the 2016 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, earning a No. 3 seed in the Lexington Regional. The Wildcats (23-7) will face 14th-seeded UNC Asheville in the first round on Saturday inside Memorial Coliseum. The game will air live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET. 

For the third time in program history and third year in a row, Kentucky has been selected to host the first and second rounds of the tournament inside historic Memorial Coliseum. The games will be held Saturday and Monday. The other first-round matchup in Lexington features sixth-seeded Oklahoma against 11th-seeded Purdue at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. 

The No. 3 seed for Kentucky is its third in program history and marks the fifth straight season that the Wildcats have been a top-three seed in the event. The Wildcats were last a No. 3 seed in 2014 when they defeated Wright State and Syracuse in the first two rounds before falling to second-seeded Baylor in the regional semifinals. 

“I am just really proud of our team for making the tournament this year,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “It is never a guarantee to make the tournament, you have to go earn it and our team really worked hard starting last June. So it is a great reward for a lot of hard work and we are excited to be in the tournament again. Our administration stepping up and supporting women’s basketball and having the tournament here without any guarantee that we would be here and still supporting it is really a credit to them. Then for our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a top-16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great. So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington. We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting and our team needs to work out. Our community really needs to come out and buy some tickets and support it no matter who is in the regional.” 

Kentucky is 17-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 13-6 record under Mitchell. The best finishes for UK came in the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 1982 when the Wildcats fell one win shy of the Final Four. Last season, UK fell in the second round. Over the last seven seasons, Kentucky has advanced to three Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s. 

UNC Asheville (26-6) enters the event after winning the Big South Tournament championship. The Bulldogs are averaging 69.4 points per game this season, allowing opponents to score 57.7 points per game. Chatori Major leads the team with 13.9 points per game, adding 44 assists and 36 steals. 

Kentucky and UNC Asheville have met twice in program history with the Wildcats holding a 2-0 record in the series. Both meetings came in 1995, with UK winning 98-76 at home before a 70-55 win on the road. 

Kentucky was one of nine Southeastern Conference teams to be awarded a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening. South Carolina earned an automatic bid to the tournament after winning the conference tournament, and is a No. 1 seed in the Sioux Falls Regional. Mississippi State, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are also going to the Big Dance.

Also earning No. 1 seeds are Connecticut, Notre Dame and Baylor. Connecticut, Baylor and Notre Dame each won their respective conference regular season and tournament titles to receive automatic bids. The Final Four will be played April 3 and 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.  

Tickets may be purchased:
  • By calling the UK Athletics ticket office at 800-928-2287 or 859-257-1818;
  • In-person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET
  • On the Internet at www.ukhoopstix.com.  
  • UK students may show their Wildcard Student ID at the Joe Craft Center ticket windows on Saturday, March 19, beginning at 11:30 a.m. to receive a complimentary first round ticket paid for by UK Athletics. There will be a limited number of tickets and each student is permitted to pick up only one per round. Should UK advance to the second round, a limited number of complimentary tickets will be available again on Monday, March 21, two hours before tipoff.  
2016 Lexington First and Second Round Schedule
Memorial Coliseum – Lexington, Ky.
First Round – March 19
(6) Oklahoma vs. (11) Purdue – 1:30 p.m. ET – ESPN2
(3) Kentucky vs. (14) UNC Asheville – 4 p.m. ET – ESPN2

Second Round – March 21
Winner game 1 vs. Winner game 2 – Time TBA – ESPN2 (Winner into Lexington Regional semifinal)
 
For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @UKHoopCats on Twitter and Instagram, or Kentucky Women’s Basketball on Facebook.

Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement…
“I am just really proud of our team for making the tournament this year. It is never a guarantee to make the tournament, you have to go earn it and our team really worked hard starting last June. So it is a great reward for a lot of hard work and we are excited to be in the tournament again. Our administration stepping up and supporting women’s basketball and having the tournament here without any guarantee that we would be here and still supporting it is really a credit to them. Then for our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a top-16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great. So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington. We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting and our team needs to work out. Our community really needs to come out and buy some tickets and support it no matter who is in the regional.” 

On the Big Blue Nation showing up … 
“Yeah, they normally do and we are looking forward to that. We had great attendance in our two years hosting in Memorial and that will be great. I think that Rupp Arena is going to be a great experience for all fans no matter who is playing. It is such a great downtown venue and a lot of people will be able to go see our great downtown and all the great restaurants and entertainment down there. I think it is going to be a great, great regional.”

On Memorial Coliseum being a special place for Kentucky …
“Well, I love the women’s tournament and that is something that makes it special and the regular season meaningful. It is something that you have to earn. You think about where we were on February 3, sitting 4-6 in the league and this team fought back and won eight straight against Southeastern Conference opponents and got a No. 12 RPI and clearly one of the top 12 teams in the country, it is a great reward for really a good regular season. We will try to use Memorial to our advantage.”

On the tough competition in the Lexington Regional …
“Yeah, just watching it and reacting it is a very tough regional, but it should be it is the NCAA Tournament and you shouldn’t have any easy path no matter what region you are in. I am just so grateful for the opportunity to try to make it to Rupp Arena and really grateful to have that opportunity. I think it is going to be great for our city if we can get that done and really grateful for our team to play another chance to play another game at Memorial. Senior Night was great for Janee and she had such a great fourth quarter and put us on her back and really did a great job there but for her to get another chance to play in Memorial is very exciting.”

On if he knows anything about UNC Asheville…
“Well, I know their coach.  And Brenda (Mock Kirkpatrick) was a top assistant at Florida for a long time, and I’ve known her for a long time.  She’s doing an outstanding job.  I’m not real familiar with their personnel, but we’ll get up to speed on them tonight.  But I do know she’s an outstanding coach.”

On if Mock Kirkpatrick was at Florida after Mitchell…
“Yes.”

On if he was surprised to get into the Lexington Regional…
“I’ve been in so many of those meetings, and we’ve been trying to move the game forward.  I was on the executive committee of our coaches association.  So, we’re trying to grow our tournament.  We are in a spot where the tournament needs to grow, and we need to do some things to have some success.  I think the overall goal of the tournament is to be very competitive, but also be more successful financially.  I’m not surprised from that standpoint.  But that’s what they wanted, people that wanted women’s basketball and wanted these regionals.  They wanted you to step up and bid, and that’s what the University of Louisville did a couple years ago, that’s what we’ve done now.  I just think it’s communities that love women’s basketball and want to support it.  So from that standpoint, I think it’s a really great venue.  It’s (Rupp Arena) not our permanent home court.  Clearly, if we were down there, it would  be a great, great advantage for us to get to play in front of our hometown fans.  It was a great advantage when UConn was playing in Bridgeport, I can attest to that.  We’ve been on the other end of it too, so I would love to experience the alternative.”

On his takeaways from the SEC Tournament…
“We had a great week down there.  The kids went down there, we lost the tiebreaker with Florida so we had to play on Thursday, which was not a bad thing.  We played a really outstanding 35 minutes against LSU, but that last five minutes helped us understand how you can’t stop hustling.  The next day we came out and really hustled hard and beat a team that had really taken it to us about a month early.  So you could really see some progress.  And then we just ran into a bustle on that Saturday.  From the standpoint of how the players prepared and what they expected out of each other, I really, really had a great experience down there.  I wish we could have played better on that Saturday, but we’ve had a really good season.  We’ve played well, we’ve played hard, we’ve overcome a lot of adversity.  I’m excited for them to see what they can do in this tournament.”

On how big of a benefit the Lexington Regional is for the Kentucky community…
“Well, it can be if our community will get out there in support.  And I believe they will.  I believe that they are, Rupp’s a great venue, and I can assure you four really good teams are gonna be down there in a couple weeks.  The community support of our program has been unbelievable the last nine years, and I’m grateful for that.  It’s important to women’s basketball that we support this.  It’s a big commitment that the university’s made and the city’s made, and it would be outstanding if we would just really show overwhelming for this.  I don’t think people would be disappointed; no matter who they go down and watch it will be some great basketball.”

On if the Lexington Regional would have economic impact…
“It can be, yeah.” 

#25 Makayla Epps, G
On potentially staying home all the way until the Final Four …
“It’s just a really big feeling. A lot of emotion. Whenever the Lexington Region came up, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I want to play at home. I want to play in Memorial. I want to play at Rupp. I want to play in front of the Big Blue Nation. It’s all home games for us, as long as we handle business and get the job done, I feel like as we will, and prepare really hard, then we’ll be fine.”

On the advantage of playing at home …
“It’s a big advantage. You fill the stands at Memorial with seven, eight thousand and then win those games potentially and then go on to Rupp and fill it with 20-some thousand all screaming for the blue and white, it’s something that’s going to be crazy if it happens and I hope it does happen. Just to play at home, especially the two games that we had at Rupp already this season were two really good games and we played really well and so I’m excited to get the opportunity again.”

On how the SEC Tournament helped them …
“I feel like the SEC helped not only our profile, but just overall players individually. I feel like the freshmen really grew and the SEC Tournament really helped them grow and get ready for the NCAA Tournament. And just as a team, we showed great strength against Florida and LSU and even against South Carolina we had some really strong moments even though that game didn’t go how we planned. Like Coach Mitchell said, we’re a team right now and I think that’s really big for us.”

#3 Janee Thompson, G
On potentially staying home all the way until the Final Four …
“It means a lot with the fan base we have. We have some of the best fans in the country. We’re really excited about being able to have home-court advantage because we think that our fans will come out and support us. So it’s exciting.”

On whether she was surprised …
“You know what, I was a little surprised. The rumors, the chatter, we were hearing that we might go somewhere else, but it’s a great opportunity for us and we’re excited to get back on the floor, try to work our way through the tournament.”

On how ready they are for this challenge …
“I’m extremely ready. We were a little disappointed about the SEC Tournament. We didn’t think we played the way we wanted to, but Coach Mitchell told us that this was a new season. It’s a fresh start, so we’re really excited. I know it’s been—it feels like it’s been so long since we played, so we can’t wait to get back out there.”

On whether playing at Memorial means something extra …
“It is, because after Senior Night you can’t predict where you’ll end up. I wasn’t sure if I would have another game in Memorial, so that’s really exciting for me. I just want to go out there and play my hardest.”

On rest after the SEC Tournament being beneficial …
“Yeah. We played three games in three days. A lot of us played a lot of minutes in those games, so this time off has been good for us physically and mentally to just put that aside and get ready to have a fresh start and go out here and play hard.”

On big-name teams coming to Lexington …
“We’re excited and, you know, like Coach has been telling us it doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve working really hard. We’ve been preparing really hard physically. We just gotta make sure we have our minds right and whoever it is, we’ll be ready.”