Seventeen home games, a trip to Santa Barbara Calif., and a new 16-game Southeastern Conference slate, are features of the 2009-10 University of Kentucky women’s basketball schedule, UK Coach Matthew Mitchell announced Monday.
The Wildcats, who have advanced to postseason play in a school-record five consecutive seasons, will face a challenging schedule as five squads (Auburn, Florida, Louisville, Tennessee and Vanderbilt) were ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll and 15 teams appeared in postseason play last year (Boston, Butler, UTC, UCSB, Louisville, Mississippi State, MTSU, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee).
“It’s particularly exciting this season as the new SEC schedule increases from 14 games to 16,” Mitchell said. “The fact that there are 16 league games for the first time in SEC history makes our schedule unique and more challenging. Every year we work really hard to construct a schedule that will prepare us for success in the SEC. We feel like we have accomplished that this year as our non-conference schedule also includes very exciting and formidable opponents.”
After an exhibition game vs. Bellarmine on Nov. 9, the Wildcats open the 2009-10 schedule with back-to-back home games, playing host to first-time opponent Boston University on Friday, Nov. 13, and Butler on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Boston Terriers are looking to continue their success from last season after finishing 25-8 overall and compiling an unblemished 16-0 record in America East play. The Butler Bulldogs are coming off an impressive season which saw them notch their second-straight 20-win campaign, tie the school record for most conference wins in a season and advance to postseason play (WNIT) for the first time since 1998.
Overall, the non-conference slate boasts 13 games against teams from 11 different conferences, including high-profile matchups against Louisville (Pack the House), Middle Tennessee and UC Santa Barbara. Eight of the 13 non-conference opponents posted winning records last season, including six with 20 or more wins. Six teams – Boston University, Butler, Louisville, Middle Tennessee, UT-Chattanooga and UC Santa Barbara – advanced to the postseason.
Other non-conference highlights include road trips to Santa Barbara, Calif., (Nov. 25), Morehead State (Nov. 17) and Middle Tennessee (Dec. 28). The Cats met the Gauchos of UCSB last season in Lexington, defeating the Big West regular season and tournament champions, 69-58. The Wildcats have not traveled to either Morehead or Middle Tennessee since 1989.
“It will be fun to return to Morehead, a place I coached for two years and a place I have a lot of respect for,” Mitchell said. “Middle Tennessee also will be a very tough game. The Blue Raiders are coached by Rick Insell, the father of Matt Insell, one of our assistant coaches. I know it will be a very exciting game for all of us but especially the Insell family.”
The SEC adopted a new 16-game schedule for the first time in its 27-year women’s basketball history. Although the women’s teams will now play the same number of league games as the men, the women are not playing the traditional divisional schedule and will not have divisional standings.
The system increased the existing 14-game schedule by adding an additional rotating team from the East and West divisions. Kentucky’s permanent partner is South Carolina and for the next two seasons, UK will face Auburn and Arkansas as their Western home-and-home opponent. The Wildcats’ Eastern Division partners are Georgia and Vanderbilt.
“I like the 16-game schedule,” Mitchell said. “It gives us two more opportunities to compete in the best conference in the country. I respect every opponent in the SEC and I’m excited to play this year’s schedule.”
Kentucky opens conference play at Georgia on Jan. 7 but returns to Memorial Coliseum for four of its next five games.
“We have only two road games in the first few weeks of January so it’s a critical stretch for us,” Mitchell said. “We want to do well and establish a tough home-court atmosphere for opponents. We have a very tough SEC road schedule so we need to perform well at home.”
Highlights of the SEC slate include a Jan. 24 matchup with Auburn when the Wildcats help celebrate the 24th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. UK joins the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) on Feb. 18 for the The WBCA Pink Zone™ game vs. Florida.
The Wildcats’ two seniors — Amani Franklin and Lydia Watkins — will be honored in a pre-game ceremony prior to Kentucky’s last home game against South Carolina on Sunday, Feb. 21.
UK will conclude the regular season with back-to-back road games against Tennessee (Feb. 25) and Auburn (Feb. 28).
The 2010 SEC Tournament returns to Duluth, Ga., March 4-7 at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.