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UK Hoops reacts to Selection Monday: the four biggest takeaways

The Kentucky women’s basketball team now knows where they’re going this weekend, who they’ll play and what time they’ll tip off (you can get all of that info HERE). Although they didn’t get the “normal” Selection Show experience, the team still got together for a Selection Monday feast. I didn’t score any food, but they did let the media speak with Coach Matthew Mitchell as well as seniors Maci Morris and Taylor Murray. Here are the day’s biggest takeaways:

On the bracket leak…

Overall, they didn’t seem too upset. The team must have been practicing when the news broke on Twitter, because Murray said their coach told his players he had a “surprise” for them. Of course, this surprise was an early peak at their bracket. For Morris, it was a relief.

“I’ve been anxious to find out who we play and where we’re going, so finding out a little sooner wasn’t too bad,” the guard laughed.

This year, the team wasn’t necessarily worried about whether or not they’d make the tournament – Coach Mitchell said they felt pretty confident they’d qualify after earning their eighth conference win back in mid-February. Instead, they were really just interested in their opponent and their location. And besides, mistakes happen.

“You have to take life the way things come at you… Things happen. We’ve all made a lot of mistakes and whoever did that, just made a mistake,” Mitchell said of the graphic flub. “We’ll extend them some grace and move on – we’re just happy to be playing.”

On comparing this year to last…

A year can make a huge difference. Last year on Selection Monday, the Kentucky Wildcats did not hear their name called – plus, there was no bracket leak to soften the blow. Mitchell recalled the “crushing” experience.

“You think back to a year ago today when your name’s not called, and it was an incredible disappointment for the first time in eight years,” the head coach said. “The players felt that; they knew what that meant. It was incredibly crushing, incredibly disappointing.”

Fast forward to a year later, and the Cats have earned a No. 6 seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The results of last year’s hard work didn’t culminate in a 2018 Tournament bid, but it did carry over throughout the off-season and into this year. Two years of hard work made today even sweeter, according to the Wildcats’ coach.

This is a team that was able to make the sum be greater than the parts,” he said. “That is a true team and a true testament to these players. I’m particularly proud of this particular bid to the tournament.”

Last year, the team felt what it feels like to experience a season cut short. It stung at the time, sure, but it made the returning players all the more hungry for this season. Morris said the experience taught her about “definitely not taking [the Tournament] for granted.”

This year, there are only a few competing players on the roster who have even experienced post-season play. What do these two particular veterans tell their younger teammates?

It’s the most fun time of the year,” Murray said. “This is what we’ve worked all season for – to try and make a run in the NCAA Tournament and again, to try and make it to the Final Four. We just have to take it one game at a time and enjoy the moment.”

(Photo via Twitter.com/KentuckyWBB | UK Athletics)

On how ready they are to get back on the court…

Very. Kentucky hasn’t played in a game since March 8, when Missouri beat them 70-68 in overtime to advance in the SEC Tournament. While ten days may not seem like a long time away from the game, it’s a lifetime compared to the rigor of conference play. Mitchell said he gave his team three whole days off to rest and recover after the loss, then it was back to business. But those few days off were a huge help, according to Mitchell and his players.

“For this particular team and this particular year, it was really good for us,” Coach said. “Coming down the stretch, we were playing tough, tough games… Our last five games were a real grind and, I thought, had just depleted us from an emotional standpoint and from an energy standpoint.”

He went on to discuss the team’s effort after their short break, saying they were more energetic, more enthusiastic and just had more of a “pop.” During this time of the season, where there’s the possibility of playing multiple games in a very short period of time, that’s more important than ever.

The time off also helped Morris get back into the swing of things, after a minor leg injury affected her performances during the back-half of the season. As the team heads into the Tournament, Mitchell is confident she’ll be back to 100 percent.

“She’s one of the most incredible competitors I’ve ever been around, and I can promise you she wants to win on Saturday. She will move Heaven and Earth to get it done,” Mitchell said. “On my list of concerns, she’s way down on the list. I can tell you she’ll be ready to roll Saturday.”

As for Morris, she’s feeling pretty good about herself, too.

“Time is on your side when it comes to trying to heal yourself,” she said. “Luckily, we’ve had time for my leg to heal up, so I’m just excited to get back out there and play like I used to.”

On their opponent…

The No. 11 Princeton Tigers. Coach Mitchell says he knows their coach, Courtney Banghart, well, but he hasn’t had the chance to catch a Princeton game yet this year. Starting tonight, that’ll change.

“After this, we’ll start digging into the Princeton Tigers,” Mitchell said. “You don’t know who you’re playing, so we just work hard to become the best version of Kentucky… and I like what I’ve seen from that standpoint.”


The Cats got Saturday’s early game: they’ll face the Tigers at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.

@MaggieDavisKSR