For the fourth straight year, the Kentucky women’s basketball team advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as the Wildcats recovered from a slow start to defeat the 15 seed Navy 61-41. After a first half in which UK found themselves down by one against the upset-minded Midshipmen, the Cats were able to turn on the jets in the second half to power down a tough Navy team. Kentucky survived an extremely abnormal game from A’dia Mathies, as the senior star failed to score a field goal for the first time in her career. Junior center DeNesha Stallworth was able to pick up the slack though, and paced the Cats with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky’s stout defense held Navy without a player in double-figures and only 15 points total in the second half. Their constant full court pressure forced the Midshipmen into 25 turnovers, and UK outrebounded the Midshipmen by 13. The Cats looked a little sluggish after not having played a game since March 10, and Navy capitalized on the lack of energy from UK and showed they were not scared to play with a top 10 team. The mood of the game changed drastically within the first minute of the second half, as New York native Jennifer O’Neill went on a personal 7-0 run including a 3-pointer and a open court layup. The sophomore point guard was full of emotion with a large contingent of family and friends in town to watch her, and she settled down to finish with 12 points, four assists, and five steals.
Despite the 20 point win, Kentucky knows they will have to step their game up as the tournament progesses if they want a shot at their first Final Four. A game like this for Mathies is very rare, but the post play of Samarie Walker and Stallworth stepped up to pick up the slack. Seemingly the best part of this UK team: your star player can have an off night but the energy and success of the team doesn’t change. The Cats are a team that knows how to respond, and no matter the score or time, Mitchell is able to alter the game plan to get his team to play winning basketball.
Kentucky will continue their tournament run on Tuesday night at 7, as they play the winner of 7th seed Dayton and 10th seed St. Johns on ESPN2. More coverage as the week continues…