March Sadness? Ha…yeah right. Quite the opposite for the Kentucky WOMEN’S basketball team. Wait….they still exist? Yes. Yes, they do. They do more than exist, they dominate. In case you missed it, the Cats finished the regular season with a 27-5 overall record, good enough to earn a 2 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. It is the fourth straight trip to the Big Dance for the Cats, who are building a legacy of success in the women’s game and making their presence felt. Kentucky has made the Elite 8 two out of the past three years, and if the Wildcats want to acheive that feat this year they will have to do so in the cold regions of New England as they are in the Bridgeport, CT region. UK opens play tomorrow afternoon as they play the 15th seed Navy Midshipmen (even though they’re still women). Are the Cats gonna win?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: Kentucky is much better than Navy in virtually every statistical category and position on the court. Navy is in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, by virtue of winning the Patriot League Tournament. They are 21-11 on the year, but lack “big game experience” as Marquette was the only power conference school they played the entire season. The Midshipmen are led by junior Jade Geif who averages a little over 13 points and eight rebounds a game. Fellow juniors Alix Membreno and Kara Pollinger also average double-digit scoring, but that’s about all the offensive production this Navy team gets.
Navy averages a lowly 58.5 points per game, and lives by their defense as they hold their opponents to just over 51 a game. Just a guess, but I think Kentucky will score more than 51, and Navy will HAVE to score more than 58 if they want to keep it close. The Midshipmen only average 14 turnovers a game due to their slow paced offense, but look for Kentucky to speed up the game tomorrow and make Navy extremely uncomfortable. That was Coach Mitchell’s goal as he said in his press conference this afternoon “We need this to be a very fast paced game.”
Kentucky connection with Navy? One Midshipmen assistant coach is a former Kentucky graduate and walk-on player for the UK Hoops team. Jenerrie Harris played in 18 total games for the Cats, and graduated in 2004. She primarily serves as the recruitment coordinator for Navy, a team unlike most in Division-1 athletics. While most student athletes have to maintain focus on just academics and athletics, the Midshipmen have to focus on academics, athletics, AND military training. No matter what the outcome tomorrow afternoon, hats off to these ladies.
The Cats also feature three players that average double-digit scoring in Co-SEC Player of the Year A’dia Mathies, junior DeNesha Stallworth, and sophomore Jennifer O’Neill. Like the men’s team, these Kentucky Wildcats often live and die by the play of their point guard, O’Neill. After their SEC Tournament Championship loss, Mitchell lamented in how O’Neill’s play correlates directly with the success of the team. When the Cats lost their five games, O’Neill has been less than stellar. In Kentucky’s 27 wins, O’Neill has been the pusher of the pace, the swisher of the 3’s, the disher of the dunks (ok just kidding)….all you can ask for in an elite point guard. These first few rounds should mean a lot for O’Neill, as she is playing just an hour away from her hometown of the Bronx. She has already admitted that both mentally and emotionally, her level of play will increase with the “hometown” advantage on her side.
If and when Kentucky advances, the Cats will play the winner of 7th seeded Dayton and 10th seeded, and host school, St. Johns on Tuesday. Don’t ask me the logistics of the whole “host school” deal in the women’s NCAA Tournament, because it is confusing and dumb. Basically…school’s apply to be a first/second round host for the NCAA Tournament years in advance, and when that application is accepted and that school makes the tournament, they automatically get to play on their home court for the first two rounds. It definitely provides an unfair homecourt advantage oftentimes for lower seeded teams. Dayton is a scary team, with a 27-2 overall record..one you don’t normally see correlated with a 7 seed. Either way, it will be a tough challenge for Kentucky to advance to the Sweet 16, and eventually set up a rematch with the UConn Huskies, a team everyone on this team is eager to play again.
In case you were wondering: President Obama picked the Cats to advance to the Elite 8 and lose to the Huskies….again. K thanks bye..
Cats play tomorrow at 12:05 p.m. on ESPNU. Check it.