With the Kentucky men's basketball team not given a bid to the NCAA Tournament, the university's women's team is trying to stay alive and create some tradition of its own. A trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line Tuesday night when Kentucky (28-5) meets Dayton (28-2) at St. John's Carnesecca Arena. The men have eight national championships; the Kentucky women have never reached the Final Four.
"If we don't make the Final Four this year, I think at some point people will start getting a little restless,'' coach Matthew Mitchell said. "People could say 'Hey, you guys have been pretty good but we need you to get to the next step.' So I think that's kind of woven in the fabric of the people because of the success the men have had. Expectations might get a little out of whack, but we're fine with that because we really have high expectations of ourselves.''
Mitchell doesn't think it weighs on players. "Kids are not really steeped in history,'' he said. "They haven't broken it down that the women's program doesn't have great tradition and the men's does. They've just heard that Kentucky is an exciting place to play basketball.''
When Ohio-born Samarie Walker, the 6-1 forward who leads the Wildcats in rebounds (8.3), blocks (51) and steals (67), decided to transfer from Connecticut, she bypassed hometown Dayton and other suitors and headed directly for Kentucky. "I was always a UK fan,'' she said. "That's why I chose to come here, because of the atmosphere.''
After eliminating Navy on Sunday, Kentucky hit New York City for dinner and no, it was not KFC. Walker loves it, saying, "This is probably somewhere I'd want to move.''
SEC player of the year A'Dia Mathies, the Wildcats' leading scorer (15.6), isn't ready to leave her hometown of Louisville, saying of Manhattan, "Too many people.''
Kentucky plays a relentless, high-energy, up-tempo style that it calls "40 minutes of dread.'' Said Mitchell, "You make situations where the players dread seeing you come in the door.''
The quips may have been taught by his good friend John Calipari, who coaches the Kentucky men. Mitchell smiled and said, "I'm learning a lot from him.''