LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky women’s basketball team will be a part of postseason play for a school-record fourth consecutive season as it was selected to participate in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament announced Monday night. The Wildcats were one of 16 teams to receive a first-round bye and will meet the winner of Middle Tennessee State and Western Carolina Friday, March 21 in the second round of the WNIT in Memorial Coliseum. Game time is 7 p.m. EST.
Single-game general admission and reserved tickets are $10 for adults and $4 for UK students and senior citizens. For ticket information, log on to ukathletics.com or call the UK ticket office at 859-257-1818 or 1-800-928-CATS (2287). Ticket office hours at the Joe Craft Center are 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. EST.
“On one level we are disappointed that we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament,” UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make it to the NCAA Tournament. But with all of the adversity, the injuries and the tough schedule we had to play this season, we are extremely excited to have the opportunity to play in the WNIT. I told the team that we now have a chance to prove the committee made a mistake by playing well in this tournament. We still have a lot to accomplish.”
The appearance marks Kentucky’s fifth all-time in the WNIT and its third in the last four years. The Wildcats, who are participating in four consecutive postseason tournaments for the first time in the NCAA era, have a 10-3 record all-time in the postseason event and claimed the title in 1990. The Cats last competed in the WNIT last season when they advanced to the third round by defeating Oakland and Ball State before falling to the eventual runner-up Wisconsin, 67-61.
Mitchell, in his first season at the helm, led his team, consisting of four seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen, to an impressive fourth-place finish in the Southeastern Conference with an overall mark of 15-15, 8-6 in the SEC. It marked the most SEC wins by a first-year coach in school history. The Wildcats overcame injuries to key players (five different players have missed 48 total games) and navigated their way through one of the nation’s toughest schedules (currently ranked 15th nationally by CollegeRPI.com). UK posted wins over RPI Top 50 programs Georgia (twice) and Florida and earned three wins over nationally-ranked opponents in Georgia (twice) and Auburn, both of which earned NCAA Tournament berths. Thirteen of UK’s 15 losses were against NCAA-bound teams and four teams were their conference tournament championships (Old Dominion, Tennessee, WKU, and Xavier).
UK finished fourth in the league standings for the second time in three years and became the first team in SEC history to finish in the top four and not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. UK earned a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament and upset No. 23/21 Georgia in the quarterfinal round before falling to top-seeded LSU in the semifinals.
The Wildcats are led by All-SEC selections and seniors Samantha Mahoney and Sarah Elliott who average 13.1 ppg (11th SEC) and 10.8 ppg (22nd SEC), respectively. All-SEC freshman Victoria Dunlap follows with 6.9 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game (14th SEC).
Middle Tennessee, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, finished the regular season with a 21-11 overall record and a 14-4 mark in league play. The Raiders fell to Western Kentucky in the finals of the Sun Belt Tournament, 65-49. Western Carolina comes from the Southern Conference and finished its regular season 25-8 overall, 15-3 in league action. The Lady Cats fell to Chattanooga in the SoCon Tournament finals, 71-59.
Kentucky is 8-2 all-time vs. MTSU but hasn’t met the Raiders since 1990. The Wildcats have never met Western Carolina.
The 48-team tournament field consists of 31 automatic berths and 17 at-large selections. An automatic bid is offered to each conference to the team that finished highest during the regular season and did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The WNIT recognizes the tiebreakers used by each conference in their tournament seeding. All games in the single-elimination format are played at the home facilities of participating schools. The host site is selected by the WNIT committee based on several factors such as fan base, host bids, facility availability, tournament seed, travel constraints, etc.
Four teams that UK faced this season are part of this season’s WNIT field, including three SEC squads. Florida, Michigan, Mississippi State and South Carolina all are participating in the postseason event.