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Wildcats Meet Oklahoma in NCAA Elite Eight




March 29, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A trip to the program's first Final Four is on the line when the fourth-seeded Kentucky women's basketball team takes on third-seeded Oklahoma Tuesday, March 30 at 9:07 EDT in the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals in the Sprint Center. The game will be televised live on ESPNHD, ESPN360.com and broadcast on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. A live Gametracker and a live blog will also be available on UKathletics.com.

Tourney Central
Gameday Information
Game Notes Kentucky Notes Get Acrobat Reader | Oklahoma Notes Get Acrobat Reader
Date & Time Sunday, Mar. 28
9:07 p.m ET
Coverage Tourney Central
TV: ESPN
Radio: BBSN
GameTracker
Live Video Via ESPN360
Live Blog
Text Updates
Location Sprint Center
Kansas City, Mo.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for youth 18 and under and are available through the Sprint Center at sprintcenter.com or at 1-800-745-3000.

A pep rally is scheduled for Tuesday from 6:45 to 7:05 p.m. CDT in the Power and Light District adjacent to the Sprint Center downtown. The pep rally with UK's pep band and cheerleading squad will be held at The Live Block, just steps from the arena.

This marks Kentucky's (28-7) first NCAA Elite Eight since 1982 and first since the NCAA expanded the field to 64 teams during the 1993-94 season. UK lost to eventual national champion Louisiana Tech, 82-60, in the '82 regional final on the Lady Techsters' home floor.

The Wildcats earned a spot in the Elite Eight after upsetting No. 1 seed and fourth-ranked Nebraska, 76-67, on Sunday night. Paced by 21 points, including 17 in the second half from Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.), the Wildcats broke open a 43-34 halftime lead to take a commanding 19-point (61-42) advantage with 10:46 left in the game. That lead gave the Cats enough cushion to withstand Nebraska's late run. SEC Player of the Year Victoria and State Farm All-America finalist Victoria Dunlap (Nashville, Tenn.) added 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds while sophomore sharp-shooter Keyla Snowden (Lexington, Ky.) nailed three three-pointers and added 13 points.

The win was UK's first over a top-10 ranked team since defeating No. 1 Tennessee in 2006 in Lexington. It also was UK's first win over a top-10 foe away from Lexington since upsetting No. 8 Western Kentucky on Dec. 11, 1991, in Bowling Green, Ky.

Kentucky is 5-7 against teams from the Big 12 conference but has never met Oklahoma. The 12 th -ranked Sooners are 26-10 overall and finished 11-5 in league play. OU has advanced by defeating South Dakota State (68-57) and UALR (60-44) in the first and second rounds and No. 3-seeded Notre Dame (77-72) in overtime in the Sweet 16.

“We approach this game with an unbelievable respect for our opponent, just probably can't say enough good things about their program,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “I think they are as equipped to handle what we do as anybody that we've played up to this point… We're going to have to commit more than ever to our defensive fundamentals to be able to stay in a stance and guard the kids on the wings and some of their isolation plays. It's going to be really, really tough, and they are an unbelievable opponent to be getting ready for right now.”

Junior guard Danielle Robinson leads five players averaging double-digits for head coach Sherri Coale and the Sooners. Robinson averages 16.7 points per game while senior guard Nyeshia Stevenson follows with 14.1 ppg. Sophomore guard Whitney Hand, senior forward Amanda Thompson and senior center Abi Olajuwon round out the double-figure scorers with 13.4 ppg, 13.0 ppg and 10.8 ppg, respectively.

Dunlap anchors an impressive Wildcat team that ranks second nationally in turnover margin. The Cats have forced a school-record 802 turnovers this season, averaging 22.3 forced-turnovers per game.

Dunalp averages a team-high 17.7 points, 8.2 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 in the second round she 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 66 blocks. She is averaging 18.0 points and 7.7rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games.

Mathies, a 5-9 guard, also has been a key catalyst for UK's success this season as she follows Dunlap in nearly every statistical category. Overall, the rookie averages 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. In three NCAA Tournament games she averages a team-high 20.3 points and 4.7 rebounds. Mathies owns the UK freshman steals record with 89 and ranks in the top three of seven other rookie categories.

Cat Scratches: Elite Eight is 'big, big moment' for UK Hoops

Amani Franklin hopped on Twitter and Facebook after Kentucky's win over top-seeded Nebraska on Sunday night. She looked to the top of the screen, saw the updated notifications icon and expected to see a few messages of congratulations.

She never could have expected to see 50 posts.

"Everybody is just showing us a lot of support from back home," Franklin said. "It's just great to hear people who usually don't watch us are now watching us since the guys are out. Everybody is kind of watching us, so that's great for Kentucky women's basketball."

The funny thing is Franklin's account wasn't the most popular.

"Keyla (Snowden), she had 99 messages after the game," Franklin said. "So I came in second place." ... read the full story

Associated Press Preview

It was a sight that stunned all but the few in Kentucky blue.

There were the underdog Wildcats, picked to finish 11th in the SEC and playing in its first regional semifinal since 1982, dictating the tempo against top-seeded Nebraska on Sunday night.

Surely fourth-seeded Kentucky couldn't keep it up, though - even as they pushed their lead to double digits. These were the vaunted Cornhuskers, a team that had lost just once all year and had the support of thousands of screaming fans who'd made the drive to Kansas City.

Well, the Wildcats never let up, and their 76-67 upset of Nebraska should put to rest any about whether cat-quick Kentucky belongs in such rarified air.

The Wildcats (28-7) will shoot for their first trip to the Final Four on Tuesday night when it faces third-seeded Oklahoma (26-10) in the Kansas City Regional final.

Kentucky took down the Huskers with speed, quickness and lots of pressure. That's exactly the formula they'll try to use to beat the Sooners, who upended Notre Dame in overtime, 77-72, behind Nyeshia Stevenson's 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds left.

"That's our game plan. We play hard defensively. We get after people," Kentucky point guard Amber Smith said.

The Wildcats will now try to get after the Sooners, who are much more familiar with the big stage.

Oklahoma reached the national semifinals last year behind the sensational Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, and are on the cusp of their third Final Four since 2002.

The Sooners weren't expected to be here, either, not after losing the Paris twins. The loss of star guard Whitney Hand to a knee injury early in the season could have been a crippling blow.

The Sooners have kept chugging along with a deep and balanced roster that outlasted the second-seeded Fighting Irish on Sunday night. The Sooners shot 50 percent from 3-point range - nearly 20 percent above their season average - and Stevenson's final 3 from the corner was the difference.

Oklahoma likely wouldn't be back in the regional finals if not for a pair of sensational performances from Abi Olajuwon, the Sooners' 6-foot-4 senior center.

Olajuwon patiently waited behind Courtney Paris for three years in a reserve role, never averaging more than 2.2 points a game before this year. But she's scored 39 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in the Sooners last two games, and Notre Dame never quite figured out how to stop her.

"(Olajuwon) is just one of those great stories. Never complained, never whined, never felt like she was getting the raw end of the deal," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "She just came to work and get better every day, and then when it came time for her to have her opportunity she just took full advantage of it,"

Kentucky played in three straight WNITs and finished 16-16 last season, which is probably why they were so quickly dismissed before the season.

But the Wildcats have clicked under third-year coach Matthew Mitchell and are now in the midst of their most successful season yet.

Junior forward Victoria Dunlap blossomed into the SEC's Player of the Year, and A'dia Mathies, who is averaging 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, became the first Kentucky player to win the SEC's Freshman of the Year award.

After nearly knocking off Tennessee in the SEC title game, Kentucky has beaten Liberty, Michigan State and Nebraska to reach its first regional final in 28 years.

"I think we're all on an emotional high right now," Dunlap said. "Just ready to continue what we're doing, and we know we're not done yet."

Oklahoma compared Kentucky's frenetic style to Big 12 rival Texas A&M. The problem for the Sooners is that they lost to the Aggies twice this season, including a 74-67 defeat in the Big 12 title game.

But Oklahoma should be well-equipped to handle the Wildcats' pressure because they've seen it before in league play. They also have one of the nation's top point guards in Danielle Robinson, who's got a little quickness herself.

"That's a huge concern for me with Oklahoma, just their ability to execute in the halfcourt," said Mitchell, the SEC's Coach of the Year. "It's going to be a mental game for us now. We've going to have to commit more than ever to our defensive fundamentals."

Pregame Press Conference Quotes

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the University of Kentucky Wildcats , Coach Matthew Mitchell and his student athletes. Coach, your thoughts about last night?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, last night was an awfully good game for us. I thought Nebraska was an outstanding basketball team. Going into the game, and I thought nothing less of them after the game, just thought they were terrific and knew we would have to play extremely well to beat them. And it just makes me real happy for these players that they were able to play as well as they played last night when the -- you know, with the magnitude of the game.

So it was just a terrific performance by our players. They've worked so hard this year all year long to get themselves in this position, and I'm just awfully fortunate to be coaching them.

Q. For Victoria, obviously you guys weren't picked to finish very high even in your own league this season. But when did you begin to get a sense that this was a team that could really do some damage?

Victoria Dunlap: I think really like towards the middle of the beginning of the season. It was preseason before the SEC Conference and we were playing really well together. Our defense was really getting after it and as a team you could see the collective energy that we had and everybody wanted to be out there playing basketball, and it just went on from there.

Q. I guess Amani, can you talk about being the senior, just how you've seen this team develop and what it means to you to be able to go to an Elite 8 as a senior at Kentucky ?

Amani Franklin : It means so much. My first three years here, we went to three straight WNITs. We knew coming into the season that everybody was dedicated to come into the gym and put the work in needed to be where we're at in this position right now. So it means so much to us right now.

Q. Maybe Keyla, you can answer this, or Amber, if you want to answer, too, just talk about the fact that you guys played such strong defense. I mean, the pressure that you put on Nebraska, they talked about that was something they really didn't experience at all this year, and if both of you could maybe talk about that and how that's been such a big part of what you've seen.

Keyla Snowden: Right. We worked really hard this whole season already since that's a main part in our practice and our defense. So I think that's helped us a great deal this whole trip to the NCAA Tournament, and I think it will continue to be a success for us in the future.

Amber Smith: We knew Nebraska hadn't faced really any pressure, and so we knew that was going to be effective in the game. I mean, that's our game plan is to play hard defensively, get after people with intent. It's been working for us this for, so just going to stay with it and work hard on it.

Q. I'm wondering if the defense has progressively gotten better, like if you guys, maybe the two of you again could talk a little bit further about that, if you thought you were really good at one point, it just keeps getting better and better. Do you feel that way sometimes?

Keyla Snowden: I think as we continue to play together and we just continue to practice more aggressively in practice, that it's continued to get better.

Amber Smith: Yeah, I agree. I mean, we just worked so hard, and so I think it'll never fail us as long as we work hard, and I think it has got better and I think it will get better.

Q. Victoria , have you guys played a perfect defensive game yet? Or do you think that you guys could still potentially get better on defense?

Victoria Dunlap: I don't think we have played a perfectly complete defensive game. I know we have our moments where everybody is on one tilt and everybody is moving and rotating on defense. But every now and then we just have a couple times where we'll slip up and get penetration or just different little things. But we definitely have a lot more room to grow and just things to get better at.

Q. For Amber or Keyla, obviously the pressure has been really successful, especially last night. But talk about the challenge of playing up against Danielle Robinson, one of the quickest and best point guards in the country.

Amber Smith: I look at it as an opportunity, and I mean, we're just going to play her like we have been playing everybody else, and we're going to pressure her. We're going to pressure the whole team. I mean, it's a great opportunity, and we're going to take advantage of it.

Q. Victoria , can you talk about the emotions and feelings about being one step away from being into the Final Four?

Victoria Dunlap: I think we're all on an emotional high right now. Everybody is really excited. Just ready to continue what we're doing, and we know that we're not done yet. I know we just left the Sweet 16 going into the Elite 8, and Coach is just saying, okay, enjoy the win, but we have another win to get to and we've got more to come. So don't settle for anything.

Q. Victoria , we're talking a lot about your defense that people have talked about all season with you, but you guys shot I think 50 percent last night and had a very good offensive performance, too. Can you talk about why -- it seemed like you got shots you wanted all night and you hit them. What do you think worked so well for your offense last night?

Victoria Dunlap: I think we were really patient in our offense. We just used what we had to our abilities with driving to the basket and just kicking to the shooters. I think that was just one thing that got us real -- especially defense got us points but also we were just real patient and not rushing things on offense and letting it come to us.

Q. Just curious with the short turnaround obviously, what you know about Oklahoma and what your game plan is as you head into that game, another Big 12 team, and what you've learned about them in the last few hours.

Victoria Dunlap: Well, we don't know much right now. That's why we're coming to practice today and getting prepared. You know, I know Coach had laid out a good game plan for us, and we're just going to just stick with whatever he has to throw out for us and play our game like we've been playing all season.

A'dia Mathies: I think we're just going to continue to play Kentucky basketball, continue to play defense, pressure, and hopefully like last game we can knock down shots and make it a good game because Oklahoma is a good team, so I think it's going to be a good game.

Q. For Keyla and A'dia, your three-point shooting, I think you're hitting 45 percent in the NCAA tournament so far as a team. What light has come on, or is it just that they're focusing so much on Vic inside that maybe it's opened up some stuff for you guys?

Keyla Snowden: Our point guards and people on the wings, they've been able to get us the ball and find us when we're open. And also Vic, when they double-team on her, it allows us to get open shots. Just being in the tournament atmosphere I think it's given our team just another motivation to knock down open shots and stuff.

A'dia Mathies: Yes, a lot of times we were fortunate to get wide open, especially on deep penetration and things like that, we was able to get open and knock down some shots, and I think that's really helping our team out right now.

Q. A'dia, sometimes it still seems like when you're open for threes, you hesitate just slightly before you shoot it almost every time. Is that because you want to drive it inside or -- what are they telling you about three-point shooting? Are they telling you to take those shots?

A'dia Mathies: Yeah, they say take it if I'm open but also be aggressive and attack the basket, so I try and do both. Sometimes I'm a little hesitating, but if they leave me open, I will take it.

Q. A'dia, I think if I read this right, your dad had told you a lot about the history of Kentucky basketball and what basketball has meant to that state. But obviously women hadn't got as much attention, and that was one thing you wanted to come to Kentucky to change that culture. Can you talk about what it means in your first year to go someplace that Kentucky has never gone before in women's basketball?

A'dia Mathies: It means a whole lot, especially to be able to do with these girls because we love each other a whole lot. Just changing the program around and head it in the right direction and making Kentucky basketball more than just the men's, making it the women's, too. So it means a lot to me.

Q. For Amber and Amani, how much I guess public response have you gotten in the last few days? I mean, Tweeting and Facebook, how many texts have you gotten? Kind of talk about the craziness surrounding all this.

Amber Smith: Okay. When I checked my Facebook last night, I had like 90 notifications. So many people just congratulating me. We're just happy that we have so much support from back home or whatnot, so it's just been crazy the last few weeks or so.

Amani Franklin : Yeah, it's been awesome. Checked Facebook and Twitter, and everybody is just showing us a lot of support from back home. It's just great to hear people who usually don't watch us are now watching us since the guys are out. (Laughter).

I mean, everybody is kind of watching us, so I mean, that's great for Kentucky women's basketball. But Keyla, she had 99 messages after the game, I had about 50, so I came in second place.

Amber Smith: I had 14.

Victoria Dunlap: I had seven.

A'dia Mathies: I was somewhere between 30 -- I was in the 30s.

Q. Amani, Coach was saying last night about how you guys had to commit to this really intense conditioning to be able to play the way you were, and last night at the end of the game you guys were still playing as hard as you were at the beginning. Can you just talk about that mindset to be in that good of condition to be able to play the style that you have?

Amani Franklin : Oh, yeah, definitely. I want to thank Coach Tracy, giving her a shout-out. She just had us committed during the off-season to come in and work hard. Those 20 and 20s that we ran really paid off and suicides and the list goes on. We just committed, especially, like you said, to play this type of defensive pressure that we have, we really have to be committed to being in great shape, and that's just helped us along the way.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you very much. We'll let you go back to your locker room. We'll take the first question for Coach.

Q. Matt, what about the development of Victoria, and the fact that she played high school ball in Tennessee that's so competitive, do you think that helped her be prepared for college, and then how she's advanced since she's been in your program.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, I think Victoria played in a very good high school program, and she played in a very good -- with a very good club in the summer that competed at the highest level nationally. So I think she was very familiar with basketball at as high as the level can get in the summer and in high school, and I think her parents really did a great job of giving her opportunities to compete.

You know, she was a national -- she was an All-American in high school in track, and track is a very competitive sport. You have to get yourself mentally prepared to run a race or compete in an event. So she showed up really equipped to compete at this level.

And while her game was not by any means complete when she got to us, she was able right away to get in defensively and function at a high level, and she just has so much desire on the defensive end of the floor to make plays.

She did arrive probably equipped better than most freshmen to compete at this level.

Q. The players kind of touched on it a little bit, but obviously as mentioned with the men being out, is this an opportunity for you guys to kind of gain a little bit more spotlight as far as people who may have not either gone to a game or really seen a lot of the women play? Is this an opportunity maybe to get a little bit of light shown on your program and to have some new people show some interest?

COACH MITCHELL: I guess it is. We're not thinking about that a whole lot. But certainly there's a lot of passion for Kentucky sports for all of our teams, and everybody knows how passionate people are about our men's program. But we've had tremendous support over the years, and this year was really special for us.

Anybody that is able to watch these players play I think is given an opportunity to see something special, and so I'm really happy if we have an opportunity to show this team to the country, and I'm really happy for these players if they get any recognition from this because they have absolutely worked themselves into a position to be special, and I'm awfully proud of them.

Q. I kind of asked the players about the frenzy in the last couple weeks of just playing on national TV and they were comparing numbers. How many friend requests do you have? Have you even had a chance to check it and maybe just your text messages and that kind of thing?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, I'll tell you where I am on that. I had to ask Vic what a notification is. I have a Facebook page, but I haven't been on it in a while. I certainly haven't checked it here.

You know, I have my phone. I have a lot of texts. It's hard to get through all those, so I haven't read any papers or anything. We're just so busy with the opponent. Nebraska had plenty to keep us busy there, and Oklahoma is really tough. So I'm not locked in on that part of it right now.

Q. Given your impressions of Oklahoma, I'm sure you know a little bit more than your players do at this point.

COACH MITCHELL: Yeah. Oklahoma is a team that, first of all, I have admired for a long, long time, that program. Coach Coale is right there at the top of coaches in this profession that I really, really respect. And I don't know her well, but I have watched her teams over the years, and especially as an assistant coach, just watched the way they conducted themselves, the way that they play for each other, and it's real evident to me that it means something to those kids to play for Oklahoma .

And that's what I always said when I became a head coach; I wanted our players to understand how special it is to play at Kentucky and to have that kind of passion and pull for each other.

So we approach this game with an unbelievable respect for our opponent, just probably can't say enough good things about their program. Now, this particular team I have watched some throughout the season on and off when I have a little downtime and watching other teams play. They're one of the teams I like to watch just because of what I just mentioned, my respect for Coach Coale.

And I think they are as equipped to handle what we do as anybody that we've played up to this point, and what I mean by that, they are a team that actually executes the backdoor pass, and they can make plays -- a lot of people can come into a game and say, okay, Kentucky is going to pressure, we'll put this backdoor play in, and they can't do it all game long.

So what I'm real concerned about is Oklahoma actually is equipped to do that. They've done that. Whenever I watch them, they're going to have some backdoor plays every single game, so that tells you they have worked on this, and it's part of what they do.

So that's a huge concern for me with Oklahoma , just their ability to execute in the half court. So it's going to be a mental game for us now. We're going to have to commit more than ever to our defensive fundamentals to be able to stay in a stance and guard the kids on the wings and some of their isolation plays. It's going to be really, really tough, and they are an unbelievable opponent to be getting ready for right now.

Q. Oklahoma mentioned that you guys remind them a little bit of A & M, Texas A & M, as far as the pressure and stuff like that. When you look at them on tape or you see them, is there any team or opponent you face that comes to mind?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, that's one of the questions I always ask the coach that's scouting the game, who do they remind you of, and they have pieces of a lot of teams in our league. They're a little unique. You know, Robinson sort of reminds me of a little taller version of our point guard, Amber Smith. I think this is going to be a terrific match-up.

One thing that we try to do is push it in transition, and I think that our point guard, Amber, does a really good job of getting the defense to shift in transition, what we call slashing the floor, slicing the floor, and I think Robinson does a great job of that. She's really, really tough.

Obviously they have some size that we don't have. That's going to be tough for us. But they're just a really good team, play hard, play for each other. That's why I respect them so much. They're not exactly like really anybody in our league. They just have pieces of a lot of things, and they're awfully, awfully good.

Q. You're mentioning that Oklahoma is well equipped for your defense. Well, if neither team can, as they say, impose their will on the other, it sounds like it could be a stalemate in that situation, where does this game get won?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, no, I think that for us what we still have to try to do, what we're going to do, so we need to try to impose our will, and Oklahoma needs to do the same.

I think it'll be won for us on the defensive end, and we will have to do a good job. I think rebounding is at a premium right now. I think when teams get real even, like last night with Nebraska , I thought we did a little bit better job of 50/50 balls and hustling just a little bit more, and that's not being disrespectful to Nebraska . I just think that's where the games come down to, because you start looking -- it's amazing. You get to this round and you start looking at the stats and they start becoming pretty similar and that's because the teams are good at this point in time.

So I think it'll be about the intangibles here on this game. Robinson plays a bunch of minutes. Amber plays a bunch of minutes. Vic plays a bunch of minutes. Their kids -- we're playing about the same number of kids is what I'm trying to say. I think it's going to be a lot about effort and who can execute and who could knock down a shot or two. That will be probably how it comes and shakes out there.

Q. Could you discuss the progression of your defense over the course of the season, and then kind of the same question I asked the players, have you seen a perfect defensive game, and what can they still do to get better?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, we play in such a tough league and such great competition and we've played such great competition in this tournament, that's awful hard to do to play a perfect game. I think that we have -- that we are closing in on near perfect effort, you know, and that's really the goal is perfect effort. It's difficult to have perfect execution. It's just impossible because teams are so good.

But the thing that -- the reason we have progressed and we're in the position we are now is because they never grew weary of the fundamentals, and that's why they have my respect and my admiration is that we put them through I'm talking about late, late in the season, we're still doing 30 minutes of defensive fundamental footwork every day, and it's the same drills every day.

It would be very easy for them to complain and to moan and groan or to just kind of get through a drill, and there's just so few times I ever had to stop and say, Look, this is not the kind of effort we're looking for. I'm talking about very, very few times over a long, hard season. We're talking about over 120 practices. It's tough.

So the reason last night we went in with so much confidence, we talked about real simple things. It was our fundamentals. It was closing out. It was putting pressure on the ball. It was denying passing lanes. It was fronting the post. The compliments -- I had some friends of mine that are coaches that aren't playing right now, and they came in for the game, and the compliments I received were, Wow, you front the post, you deny the passing lanes, you put pressure on the ball.

The reason they have progressed and the reason they'll have a chance to win tomorrow night, I don't know that we can, but we'll have a chance is because they've been willing to work so hard.

Q. Keyla started the last eight games. What precipitated that change, and how impressed have you been with her play since then?

COACH MITCHELL: Well, we had an injury with Carly Morrow. She's dealing with a fatigue issue that we're trying to figure out exactly what's going on there. So she was -- her minutes had to drop because she couldn't go. She would get winded very easily.

And so as her condition progressed to a point to where we needed to make a change in the line-up, so there were some candidates for that job, and Keyla got it because she had worked really, really hard at the defense. Here's something I want to tell you about Keyla Snowden. About 13, 14 games ago, we were at -- it may not be that long, but we were at Vanderbilt here in the last couple months, and she didn't get off the bench, and I didn't put her in the game because I didn't have any confidence that she would defend.

She started coming in for extra work, and basically just made up her mind that she was going to be committed, and it's really remarkable -- it's a remarkable thing, an example for the rest of our players, that if you just change your mindset, you can go from literally not getting in a game to, as you all are witnessing, being a significant player on college women's basketball's biggest stage.

I'm really proud of her because she was getting it in practice. It was not a lot of warm and fuzzies in practice for her. It was tough every day for her to come in because I knew she had the ability. I knew she could do it. So she's been a real difference for us in this tournament, just her range is so deep, you have to respect that, and if you don't, she's going to burn you.

But I always knew she could shoot, but it was the defense that turned it around for her, and she's been terrific for us.

Q. You mentioned the tradition with Oklahoma and the fact they've been here before. They know the drill coming to the NCAA Tournament. Your team does not. Is that something you can maybe use as a real advantage, that maybe coming into a situation they don't really know, they'll just go out there and play?

COACH MITCHELL: Yeah, I think that's all how you approach it, and the thing that this team has done a great job of all year long and why I'm optimistic that we'll be able to handle this is they have not gotten caught up in different things.

And this has been a year, I've said this before, we've come to a lot of points in the season where we could have gotten a sense of arrival, of stop and smell the roses, feel like things were great. There were a lot of big moments in the year. And they have resisted the urge to do that. They have continued to punch through and work, and so this will be -- everybody is aware of what's on the line. It's a big, big moment. There's no doubt about it. I think it's silly to say it's just another game. It's not.

But what we will try to do is get all of those things -- how happy we would be to win, how sad we would be to lose, get all the consequences of the game off our mind and just focus on what we need to do, and this team has shown me they have that ability, and so I suspect they're probably going to be able to do that one more time.

Q. You touched a little bit about rebounding, but talk about facing Amanda Thompson, Abi Olajuwon. Thompson is averaging over ten rebounds a game and Abi is playing the best she's ever played here lately.

COACH MITCHELL: It's going to be tough. It's going to be one of the big keys to the game to who can just fight and battle, and we're at a big disadvantage there, huge disadvantage in size. We will have to have five players committed to scrapping and working, and we call it action-oriented rebounding, action words, grab, pull, snatch, dive, whatever you can do. We talk to them about those words before games because we just can't get into a jumping match or think we're just going to jump up and get rebounds. We really have to fight on the boards.

Thompson and Olajuwon are imposing figures. They are tough, tough rebounders. I keep going into those games and saying how in the world are we going to do it, and somehow they've figured out a way to do it.

But this will be a huge test for us on the boards and will be a big part of the game. We'll have to compete with them hard.

Q. Just to follow that up, talk a bit about defending Olajuwon in the post. She had a double-double last night and is really playing well offensively.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, our whole philosophy there, and everybody knows by this time that we don't have a lot of height. We've talked about it all year. Our philosophy is pretty simple. We try to start playing post defense 35 feet from the basket, so we're going to try to get you to catch it where -- if you want to catch it at the three-point line, we're going to try to get you to catch it outside the NBA line. And if you want to catch it at the elbow, we're going to try to get you 10 feet from there.

So the post defense starts for us on the perimeter. So we need to pressure so much that our philosophy is if you can't see her, you can't throw it in there. So there's more -- there are going to be times when we just can't keep it from getting in there, and those are just tough situations. You then just have to fight as hard as you can, kind of hope she misses, box out, get the rebound, limit those opportunities for her, but really the goal with her is just to keep it out of her hands. And that's not a secret. That's what we've done.

We have a lot of big post players in the SEC, and so we've had varying degrees of success with big players. This will be as big a test as we've had. She's a really, really good player and has worked herself -- you can tell she's been dedicated to getting better. It'll be tough. She's a good player.

THE MODERATOR: Okay, Coach. Thank you very much. Congratulations again. We'll see you tomorrow.

COACH MITCHELL: Thank you.

Fast Scripts by ASAP Sports


 

 

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