The University of Kentucky women’s basketball team will face a bolstered schedule for the 2010-11 season that includes seven opponents who finished in the final ESPN/USA Today Top-25 poll last season, UK head coach Matthew Mitchell announced Wednesday.
UK Hoops opens its 37th season of varsity women’s basketball, its fourth under Mitchell, with an exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan on Nov. 7. The Cats’ official start of the season will be an 11 a.m. tip against Morehead State on Friday, Nov. 12, followed by first-time opponent Notre Dame on Nov. 21. The Fighting Irish are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance last season, losing to Oklahoma, which advanced to the Final Four.
“We open up the season with Morehead State, a place I used to coach and a place I really love because of the opportunities I was given there,” Mitchell said. “We are excited about being one of the first games of the season again as we will tip off at 11 a.m. against the Lady Eagles. Notre Dame will be our ‘Pack the House’ game and they will be a tough test for us as they have one of the premier players in the country in Skylar Diggins. Also, Lexington native Natalie Novosel will return to play in her hometown and I know that will be special for her.”
In addition to a stringent non-conference schedule at home, UK Hoops will make its first trip to Durham, N.C., on Jan. 4 to take on the Duke Blue Devils on ESNPU. It marks just the third meeting all-time between the two history-rich programs and UK’s first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium. The last meeting between the squads was in 1995. Other notable non-conference road games include the yearly rivalry game against Louisville (Dec. 5), 11-time defending Southern Conference regular-season champion UT-Chattanooga (Dec. 11) and Middle Tennessee State (Dec. 29).
UK will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., in late November for its lone non-conference tournament at the Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic sponsored by LaQuinta Inn. The tournament includes four teams in Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Murray State and host Southern Miss. UK will take on intrastate foe Murray State in its first-round matchup, marking the first meeting between the programs since 1994.
“I feel this is the most challenging non-conference schedule we’ve had in my four years at Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “The main objective of a non-conference schedule is to prepare us for SEC play, and without a doubt, this non-conference portion is tough.”
As adopted last season by the SEC, there will be a 16-game conference schedule, but, in contrast to the men’s 16-game schedule, 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 this season, UK will face Auburn and Arkansas as its Western home-and-home opponents. The Wildcats’ Eastern Division partners are Georgia and Vanderbilt.
Kentucky opens conference play at Arkansas on Jan. 6 but returns to Memorial Coliseum for four of its next five games.
“Clearly, there are higher expectations for our team than previous seasons but we are excited about that,” Mitchell said. “The SEC schedule is once again very difficult and I really try not to look at it because it makes me stay awake at night thinking about it. It’s a very difficult schedule against great teams from top to bottom as the SEC is the premier conference for women’s basketball in America.”
Highlights of the SEC slate include a Feb. 7 home matchup with Tennessee on ESPN2 and UK joins the Women's Basketball Coaches Association on Feb. 13 for the WBCA Pink Zone™ game vs. LSU, also televised on ESPN2.
The Wildcats’ three seniors — Victoria Dunlap, Amber Smith, Carly Marrow — will be honored in a pregame ceremony prior to Kentucky’s last home game against Arkansas on Feb. 24.
UK will conclude the regular season at Auburn on Feb. 27 as four of its last six league games are on the road.
The 2011 SEC Tournament returns to Nashville, Tenn., on March 3-6 at the Bridgestone Arena.
Overall, 13 teams participated in post season play last season, including seven opponents who ranked in the final top-25 poll In all, the Cats will be facing teams from seven different conferences, including the ACC, BIG EAST, Mid-American, Ohio Valley, Southern, Southwest Athletic and Sun Belt.
All UK Hoops games can be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network and UKathletics.com and all home games will be played in Memorial Coliseum.
Season tickets for UK’s entire 15-game home schedule are on sale now for $45 except lower-level chair back seating, which is anticipated to be sold out, for $60. Single-game tickets for adults will be $7 and only $4 for youth and seniors. Fans interested in season tickets can go to UKathletics.com or call the UK ticket office at 1-800-928-CATS.