With the Kentucky men’s program looking to next year, the women’s team offers hope to UK fans. Kentucky, a number two seed, has made the tournament for the fourth year in a row for the first time in school history.
Head coach Matthew Mitchell said the team doesn’t take that success for granted,and being the only Kentucky team to make the NCAA tournament this season doesn’t affect his players.
“Sometimes, people on the outside attach you being your best with, maybe, winning a certain amount of games or wining a trophy, or something like that,” Mitchell said. “But we really are trying to strive to help our young women learn how to strive for excellence each and every day. So there’s no added pressure, other than the pressure that we put on ourselves to be our very best every day.”
The Wildcats play their home games at Memorial Coliseum, and generally draw a capacity crowd of about 7,500 fans. As the tournament begins, they’ll be in Queens, N.Y. – far from Louisville but close to home for a few players.
“Jennifer O’Neill’s from the Bronx and Jelleah Sidney is from Queens, and they’re extremely excited,” Mitchell said. “We also have Kastine Evans who grew up in Salem, Conn., but has family in the city… It’s like Frank Sinatra said: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, so we’re hoping we can have a good weekend and advance in the tournament.”
Kentucky lost to Connecticut last year in the regional finals, and UConn is in the same quarter as the Wildcats again this time around, setting up a possible rematch.
“Our players would love to play Connecticut, ‘cause that would mean they had advanced to the Elite Eight and we had advanced to the Elite Eight,” Mitchell said. “But it is very, very important to stay in the moment in the NCAA tournament. It’s sometimes difficult not to look ahead because it is really an exciting prospect to be among the nation’s best and have a chance to really compete for this championship.”
Kentucky faces Navy in the first round on Sunday afternoon.