UK Hoops to Face Top-Seeded Nebraska in NCAA Sweet 16
March 24, 2010
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The University of Kentucky women's basketball team, fresh off its 18-point win over fifth-seeded Michigan State, will face top-seeded Nebraska Sunday, March 28 in the NCAA Sweet 16 in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
The game time is set for 30 minutes following the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma matchup or approximately 10 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com. The game also will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. A live Gametracker, a live blog and FREE live stream will also be available on UKathletics.com.
Tickets are currently on sale through Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. All-session books are $48 for adults and $20 for youth (ages 0-18). Single session are $25 adult; $15 youth (0-18).
UK (27-7) has compiled an outstanding resume en route to the most successful season in school history. The Wildcats have charted the most wins in school history (27), including a program-best 11 wins in the Southeastern Conference. Despite being picked to finish 11th in the preseason polls by media and coaches, UK finished second in the league standings and also had an impressive showing in the SEC Tournament. The Cats defeated Auburn and Mississippi State on their way to meeting No. 3 Tennessee to its first SEC Tournament final since 1982. The Wildcats have now advanced to their first regional semifinal game since 1982 with wins over 13th-seeded Liberty (83-77) and fifth-seeded Michigan State (70-52) in the opening rounds.
SEC Player of the Year and All-America candidate Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) has paced UK to its record-breaking season. The 6-1 junior forward averages a team-high 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.0 blocks per game. She is the only SEC player to rank among the league's top three in scoring and rebounding. She also ranks among the nation's leaders in steals (14th -3.2) and with three swipes vs. Michigan State she has tied the school's single-season record of 104 with Leslie Nichols and Rita Adams. Dunlap also has dominated the low post, setting a single-season school record of 65 blocks. She is averaging 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in two NCAA Tournament games.
SEC Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) also has been a key catalyst for UK's success this season as she follows Dunlap in nearly every statistical category. She is averaging 13.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. The 5-9 guard dropped a career-high 32 points against Liberty in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, becoming just the 11th Wildcat in school history to score 32 or more points in a single game. In two NCAA Tournament games, Mathies averages a team-high 20.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. Mathies owns the UK freshman steals record with 86 and ranks in the top three of seven other rookie categories.
This is UK's seventh overall bid in the NCAA Tournament, the first since 2006. UK, now 6-6 all-time in the Big Dance, looks to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1982. That year the Wildcats fell just one win shy of the Final Four, losing to eventual national champion Louisiana Tech on the Lady Techsters' home floor in the regional finals.
Nebraska, the nation's fourth-ranked team, earned its first-ever Sweet 16 bid after wins over Northern Iowa (83-44) and UCLA (83-70) in the first and second rounds, respectively.
The Huskers (32-1) secured their first Big 12 title in school history with an unblemished 16-0 league record. Their only loss this season came at the hands of Texas A&M in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament last week, 80-70.
The Huskers are led Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsey Griffin. The 6-2 senior forward is one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy with averages of 20.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
She ranks among the top players nationally with her 60.7 field goal percentage and has charted a career-high 58 steals while adding 22 blocks.
Sunday will mark just the fourth meeting between the programs, the first since 1999. UK is 1-2 all-time vs. Nebraska and owns a 1-0 advantage in the NCAA Tournament. UK defeated the Huskers in the first round of the NCAA West Regional in 1999, 98-92. It marked the first time in 17 years the Wildcats had won a first-round game in the Big Dance. The Cats are 4-7 all-time vs. teams from the Big 12.
Cat Scratches: Cats Aren't Content with Sweet 16
Part of what has made the 2009-10 basketball season extraordinary is that lightning has struck twice.
One year ago today, it was both teams -- the men and the women -- that were finished with postseason play after early bows in their respective National Invitation Tournaments.
To think both programs would still be playing in the Big Dance at this time last year after last season's debacles would be nothing short of ludicrous.
Maybe some could see the men coming. The hiring of superstar coach John Calipari, the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation and the return of Patrick Patterson hinted of an early turnaround... read the full story
Associated Press PreviewKentucky and Nebraska are so similar in so many ways, it's almost as if they'll be looking at themselves in the mirror when they meet in the Kansas City regional semifinals on Sunday.
Both top-seeded Nebraska (32-1) and No. 4 Kentucky (27-7) have rebounded from disappointing seasons to break the school record for victories. Each team boasts its conference's coach of the year and player of the year.
Both are energized by standout freshman guards, and both must avoid a letdown because they've already advanced as far or farther in the NCAA tournament than any other team in their school's history.
"It's kind of like playing yourself in a way," said Nebraska senior Cory Montgomery.
With Kelsey Griffin sidelined last season by an ankle injury, the Huskers struggled to a 15-16 record and were not expected to do much this year. Kentucky last year was 16-16 and picked 11th in this year's Southeastern Conference preseason poll.
But the 6-2 Griffin came roaring back for her senior season, averaging 20 points and almost 12 rebounds for a team whose only loss was to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tourney and is now in its first regional semifinals.
While Griffin was being handed the Big 12 player of the year award, Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap was accepting the same honor from the Southeastern Conference. Dunlop averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals to lead the Wildcats to their first regional semifinals since the inaugural NCAA tournament in 1982. They've never been to the next round.
"There's no question a lot of parallels there," said Nebraska's Connie Yori, the Big 12 coach of the year. "Two teams that got it turned around."
The many similarities have not been lost on Kentucky's Matthew Mitchell.
"I think it makes for one of the most interesting match-ups we've had in the tournament," said the SEC coach of the year. "I know how hard our team has worked this year and how committed they've been, and I know Nebraska could not be where they are now had they not had something similar to that."
Griffin and Dunlap both led their teams in scoring and rebounding and figure to see a lot of each other when their game tips off.
"Coach has already talked about that," said Dunlop, a year younger and an inch shorter than her Nebraska counterpart. "I will start out on her during the game."
Griffin sees a similarity between her and Dunlop in size.
"That by no means means she won't be able to score in the low block," Griffin said. "She's very quick off the dribble, a versatile player. Not only that, she can also get up and defend as well."
Size and experience may be tilt toward the Huskers. But Kentucky may be a bit quicker. The Wildcats may give Nebraska problems with a pressing man-to-man defense that's created 30 turnovers in their first two NCAA games.
"I think they're a little bit better 3-point shooting team," said Mitchell. "We may cause a few turnovers. But other than that, the scoring is pretty close, the points allowed are pretty close. It seems like it ought to be a heck of a game."
Kentucky's A'dia Mathies, the SEC's freshman of the year, has the quickness and athletic ability to cause problems defensively and offensively. In her tournament debut against Liberty, the 5-9 Mathies scored a career-high 32 points and had four steals. Only Dunlop's 33-point effort against Butler in November was better among the Wildcats this season.
"Just coming out and playing as hard as I can is basically all I really try to do," she said. "I just go out there and play and be aggressive like coach wants me to."
Key to Nebraska's handling of the Kentucky press will be 5-9 Lindsey Moore, who averaged almost 9.5 points and eight assists and was named to the Big 12's all-freshman team.
But the primary concern for every Nebraska opponent is always Griffin.
"She is amazing," said Mitchell. "She takes so much contact at the basket, and a lot of players can do that. Not a lot can finish the way she does with contact. She's very, very physical and tough."
Pregame Press Conference Quotes
Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell and Players Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies
THE MODERATOR: We're ready to start with the University of Kentucky Wildcats , Coach Matthew Mitchell. Congratulations on a great season. Your opening comments.
COACH MITCHELL: Thank you very much. We are excited to be in Kansas City , really appreciate the hospitality that's been shown so far. It's been a great experience up until now, and we are looking forward to getting out on the floor and practicing today, have a very, very tough opponent in Nebraska . We have a lot of respect for their team and how they play, so we have a tough task tomorrow night. But we are looking forward to the challenge and think our players are ready to get it going.
Q. You had such a great leap forward this year from last year. Was there a time this season when you began to realize that this could be a really special year for you and the players?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, it was a gradual thing that happened. It was not an "aha" moment or something like that. I think that early on we found out that we had a team that was willing to work extremely hard, and they were able to sustain that over the course of the season.
I think our game against Louisville was the first time where I felt like they were able to execute a game plan, get themselves mentally, emotionally ready to play. I was impressed by that. So that gave me some confidence in the team going into conference play. And then we've just had some really good games in the conference. I think the biggest time for us was a road trip. We beat LSU on a Thursday night and Mississippi State on a Sunday, and when we did that, probably solidified it with me that we could be pretty special.
Q. Can you talk about the 9:00 tip and the kind of things you'll have your players do during the day tomorrow?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, we're thrilled to be playing at 9:00 and happy about that. We have a chance to play one of the best teams in the country, get into the Elite 8. So whatever time they wanted to set the tip-off is fine with us.
Tomorrow we will have our normal game day activity. They'll have a little bit of extra time maybe to rest in the afternoon. We'll encourage them to do that, but I don't think that's going to play a huge factor.
I think when you get to this point, certainly we are excited to play, and I'm sure Nebraska is, and things like that have not really bothered our team very much this year. We're thrilled for the tip-off, and we're looking forward to it.
Q. Wondering about your reaction to what just happened on ESPN. I'm sure you saw Baylor beat Tennessee , and how it may or may not affect your feelings about this. One, you've got a Big 12 team that beats the SEC champ, but also a No. 1 seed goes down in the Sweet 16, so just what are your thoughts about seeing that and its relation to tomorrow night?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, we were practicing, so I didn't see it. I feel bad for Coach Summitt, who gave me a tremendous opportunity to be in this business, and I feel bad for our conference to lose somebody out of the tournament.
As it would relate to our game, I don't think it will have much impact. You know, we have done a great job all year of trying to keep whatever challenge we have next right in front of us and trying not to think a lot about external things.
So I don't think it'll impact our team at all, give us more confidence or less confidence or more anticipation to play or less. I just think that we have a pretty focused group, and I think they will put all of their energy into getting ready to play Kentucky basketball and getting ready for a very, very good Nebraska team.
But it's funny, we haven't paid much attention to other people in the tournament just because that's sort of what we've done all year, just stayed focused on what we need to do, so I don't have much of a reaction other than I hate it for Coach Summitt and hate it for the SEC.
Q. Do you have any thoughts on the similarities between your program in this situation right now and Nebraska 's? Both of you are having school-record win totals. You both have the conference player of the year. Both of you came from way back from last year, disappointing years last year, to great years this year. There seems to be a lot of similarities in the two programs right now.
COACH MITCHELL: I think it makes for one of the most interesting match-ups we've had in the tournament. I just -- I know how hard our team has worked this year and how committed they've been, and so I know Nebraska could not be where they are now had they not had something similar to that.
So obviously I don't know much about their team or what happens inside their program, but you just have to know that that's a committed group of young women that have played very hard and probably didn't listen to a lot of people outside of the program, and I think that's the great thing of what our kids did. We were picked 11th, and all we ever told them is we'd never coach them like they were going to finish 11th; we would coach them in anticipation of finishing first. So I'm assuming Connie probably had the same type of message to her group.
I think it's great when young people can be rewarded for hard work and putting everything they have into something and not listening to other people and letting other people define who they are, so I think it's two teams that are a good example of that.
As far as on the basketball court, I think there are a lot of similarities. You know, some of the places where -- I think they're a little bit better three-point shooting team. We may cause a few turnovers. But other than that the scoring is pretty close, the points allowed are pretty close. It seems like it ought to be a heck of a game.
Q. Could you talk about your regard for the Big 12, your level of respect for the Big 12 as a women's basketball conference, and if there's any common threads you see that run through those top teams in the league?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, first of all, we have tremendous respect for the Big 12 and think it's a great women's basketball conference. I'm impressed with the commitment to all the -- that all the schools have made to women's basketball. That's very impressive to me. It seems like everybody in the league is very committed to women's basketball being excellent. A lot of great coaches, similar to the SEC, and a lot of good athletes, real athletic league.
So I think it's a tremendous test for us to play the champion from the Big 12. Nebraska proved they were the best team in a great league this year, so we have a lot of respect for the Big 12.
Q. When you've taken a look at the UCLA game that Nebraska played, do you see a lot of similarities in how UCLA tried to attack Nebraska with pressure, tried to disrupt Nebraska with what you've tried to do all year? Are there similarities or are you really a lot different than UCLA in the way you try to trap and distract?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, conceptually we probably are similar as far as their concept is trying to pressure and trying to get you to turn the ball over, speed you up. We're very different in how we try to do that. They mix their defenses a lot, and they run a lot of combinations, combination defenses, what some people call junk defenses, triangle 2, things like that.
We are a pretty straightforward team, man to man, very little zone. So I don't think we pull a lot of punches. We're going to just try to play extremely hard and pretty fundamentally sound man-to-man defense and try to extend that sometimes, but I didn't see a lot of similarities between us and UCLA.
Q. Just wondering where this team's psyche is right now, where they are mentally, physically, and how they feel about coming into a big game like this?
COACH MITCHELL: I've been real impressed with them. They impressed the heck out of me against Michigan State with how they handled that situation. I think they got a lot of confidence from that. So I haven't seen anything that would concern me. So disinterest, people acting like we've arrived at the place where we're going to be and that's good enough for them, lack of focus, any of those things that I might be trying to watch for and be concerned about, haven't seen it. I've seen a real upbeat, energetic group, extremely focused. The last three days of preparation have just been outstanding. We had a very good practice this morning.
So I'm going in with a lot of confidence, and you know, it's all about what the players can do at this point mentally. I think the game is going to be won with which team can execute and really work through adversity and all those things you have to do in a basketball game.
We have a tough, tough team to play. The only chance we have is to go out and give it everything that we have, and from that standpoint, I think they are there. I think they're mentally there, ready to go out and give a great effort.
Q. What's your biggest concern with Nebraska and with Kelsey Griffin? Is it that amazing to see one player coming back and making this kind of impact for a team?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, first of all, she is amazing. She is an amazing basketball player. It would be hard for me to be more impressed with someone than I am with Kelsey Griffin. She gets a lot done just with her physical strength, her determination, just a really tough player.
We put together personnel edits so our players can get familiar, and you watch her, and she takes so much contact at the basket, and a lot of players can do that, not a lot can finish the way she does with contact. She gets to the line a ton. She's very, very physical and tough.
And then you put that on top of a player coming back is extremely impressive. So you see what a difference that she can make in this team, and basketball is a funny game; one person can make a huge difference on a basketball team, and by no means are they just Kelsey Griffin. They have a really good basketball team. But concerning her, I'm just really, really impressed and would love to coach someone like that. So that's the highest compliment I could pay her.
And then the team, what concerns me about Nebraska is just their balance and the weapons that they have offensively being able to score. When you average the points that they average and you have four of your starters in double figures and you have the ability to shoot the three and then a dominant inside player, it's just an extremely difficult team to play against because a lot of times you're looking for weaknesses, who can I play off of here, who can I back off of, who can I -- how can we find a weakness there, and it's hard to do with them on the offensive end.
I think we'll have to do a very good job of playing as close to our identity as we can, trying to make everything for them tough, and that's not going to be easy to do. They're a fine basketball team.
Q. I'm wondering if they remind you of any teams that you've played, and I'm also wondering if you've seen other teams attempt to play the kind of ball pressure that you guys apply.
COACH MITCHELL: You know, they remind me of really no one specifically in our conference. They have pieces of teams, but that's what makes them so good. They just have a little bit of everything.
So not anybody that just jumps right out at me, but I've watched a lot of tape, and it's -- they've played obviously some really good teams. It's just a little -- I'm interested to see what will happen here. This is a great team. We're going to try to take out of their -- I'm not giving away any secrets here. I'm sure they understand what we're going to try to do. We're just going to try to make it really, really tough for them to run things.
Now, they're so talented, they make us look pretty silly out there trying to do that. I don't know. We have a lot of respect for them. They're very good. But we'll certainly try to stick with what has us -- you know, dance with the one who brung you I guess is what we'll do.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. Good luck tomorrow night.
Q. Victoria , what are your thoughts on Kelsey Griffin? I'm sure you've seen film. She's the Big 12 player of the year. You're the SEC player of the year. What are your thoughts on her?
Victoria Dunlap: I think she's a great player. She has a variety of ways to score. She's very mobile at the post with her size, and just has a lot of threats.
Q. Victoria , would you figure on guarding her quite a bit? I know you probably will switch around some, but it'll be you two for quite a bit of the time, wouldn't you think?
Victoria Dunlap: Yes, Coach talked about who's going to be guarding her starting the game.
Q. Victoria , I'm wondering you're going in as the underdogs, I guess, because you're the lower seed. Is that a role you're comfortable with and kind of what's your thinking of being the underdog?
Victoria Dunlap: I think all year we've been the underdog with a lot of games, but our mentality is just to go in as we're the top dog and not worry about what they're going to do but what we're going to do as a team. Coach is going to make sure that our mentality is just go out there, play hard and strong and not worry about anything else.
A'dia Mathies: Yeah, I think the underdog role, it's less pressure actually. I think when you just go out there and play Kentucky ball and just be aggressive and play defense, I think that's going to help us out tomorrow night.
Q. Victoria , have you noticed similarities between the two teams? You both have made great strides from last year. You both were about .500 last year. You both have the conference title of the year, you both have the conference player of the year. You're both having the greatest season in school history as far as total wins. There's a lot of similarities between you two it seems like.
Victoria Dunlap: Yeah, I guess if you go back and look at all the different things. But I think one thing that we'll definitely have is just our speed and our transition play that we'll definitely get out and score a lot of buckets, and that's just our maybe focus that Coach talked about, just getting out -- that's how we've beat a lot of teams, just getting out in transition and using our quickness.
Q. A'dia, was there a game this year in which you felt like after the game in the locker room, the team felt like you had turned a corner and maybe you were having a more special team than when the season first started?
A'dia Mathies: I think it first started at the Louisville game, especially since they had lost like five years previous in a row, and made that turnaround and just a good performance by everybody that game. That really showed everybody else what kind of season we could have and the season that we thought we could have.
Q. Victoria , you said this team feeds off of crowd energy and you're not necessarily going to have a blue crowd the way you did at Freedom Hall. Is that a concern? And then also, the 10:00 start, Eastern Time start, a concern when you're trying to play with a lot of energy?
Victoria Dunlap: It would be nice to have a lot of fans here, but whoever is out there we're still going to feed off them. I know they're going to be loud and really energetic. That's not something we can focus on as a team. We have to concentrate on each other's energy and how everybody else is playing as a team.
And 10:00, it can be a factor, but we're not going to let it be. Coach says we can't worry about when we're playing, whether we're playing at 10:00 at night or 10:00 in the morning, no matter what we've got to come to play.
Q. Victoria , in looking a little bit more at that match-up that you're going to have with Griffin , can you compare any similarities in the way that the two of you play? I know you both lead your teams in scoring and rebounding and seem like pretty athletic post players. What kind of stuff when you watch her play do you see that looks similar or maybe different to your game?
Victoria Dunlap: I think similar, we get the ball at the high post. We're both drivers going to the basket. I've seen a couple times where she's done a little turnaround jumper in the paint. I guess we just have the versatility of both of us, just being able to go off the dribble or shoot a pull-up jumper or outside shot and just having -- the team relies on both of us to score to play well. That's it.
Q. A'dia, there were a lot of question marks before that Michigan State game about how you guys were going to handle the game and a bigger team and that kind of stuff. Did that game give you guys a lot more confidence that you can play on this national level with some of the best teams?
A'dia Mathies: I believe it did. This showed that we can compete with the best, and they was a big, physical team. I think the edge factor was our speed, and we just use our speed to our advantage. That's just the way we play, and I think that's how we're going to play the next game, too, and I think that's going to hopefully come out with the same outcome.
Q. Victoria and A'dia, do you guys ever remember starting a game as late as 10:00 Eastern Time?
Victoria Dunlap: In AAU maybe. That's the last time I remember playing late is in AAU.
A'dia Mathies: We have curfew.
Q. A'dia, you guys don't have any seniors in your starting lineup. You have one who comes off the bench who played quite a bit or started early in the year. As a freshman can you talk about your mentality in this NCAA Tournament when you have not had any experience in this event and just how you think the team with the experience factor handles this, as well?
A'dia Mathies: We have one starter, Amani Franklin, in our lineup. She's a senior. But I think just coming out and playing as hard as I can is basically all I really try to do, because since I haven't been here before, there's really no pressure or anything really to me. I just go out there and play and be aggressive like Coach wants me to. I think that really helps us out because when there's no pressure, you can basically do everything you want to do.
Q. For both of you, Coach talked about he thought the biggest fear for him because you guys had felt like you had arrived because you were at the Sweet 16. How do you ward off those feelings and those thoughts?
Victoria Dunlap: We just come out from the beginning. First it starts off with us in practice and then in shoot-around just showing that we are in tune and mentally focused about what we have to do on offense and defense and then take that into the game in the beginning and play hard and not let up and not have any false efforts or anything.
A'dia Mathies: Yeah, I think we just -- we realize that we can go even farther, that we realize that we haven't just arrived. We're going to make this year even special-er (laughing). So I think he's keeping our focus and keeping us grounded and letting us know that even though we have had a good season, we can be even better, so we're listening to that.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies, good luck, have a great game tomorrow, and we'll see you tomorrow.
Fast Scripts by ASAP Sports
Nebraska Head Coach Connie Yori