LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 19/15 Kentucky women’s basketball team earned its seventh bid to the NCAA Tournament with a No. 4 seed in the Kansas City Regional when the tournament pairings were released on Monday evening. The Wildcats (25-7) won’t have to travel far for their first NCAA appearance in four years, as UK will square off with 13th-seeded Liberty (27-5) in the first round Saturday, March 20 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
The other first-round match-up at Louisville features No. 5-seed Michigan State (22-9) and No. 12 seed Bowling Green (27-6). The Falcons and Spartans square off at 12:11 p.m. EST Saturday on ESPN2 with Kentucky’s game against the Flames beginning 30 minutes following the conclusion of that game, also on ESPN2.
The team learned of its selection to the NCAA Tournament at a gathering held Monday at the home of head coach Matthew Mitchell and his wife, Jenna.
“We’re happy to be playing in the tournament and have an opportunity to compete for a national championship,” Mitchell said. “I was so happy to be in the field and happy that the players have this opportunity. That’s all we wanted all year. To get it started in Louisville is a really special opportunity for us.”
The Louisville pod is hosted by the University of Louisville and will be played at Freedom Hall. Session booklets include all three games are only $27. They are available through the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818 with an order deadline of Tuesday, March 16 at 4 p.m. EST. Ticket requests will be accepted via phone 1-859-257-1818 or 1-800-928-CATS (2287), fax 859-323-1269, walk-up at the UK Ticket Office in the Joe Craft Center or online at UKathletics.com.
There are also tickets available from Freedom Hall by calling 1-800-633-7105 or 502-852-5151and by box office purchase. The box office operation times are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. EST.
“It can make a tremendous difference if we can somehow some way reach our fans and let them know how important it is to go buy tickets and show up,” Mitchell said. There is nothing that can replace that energy that they can give you. You’ve seen how well we can play at home. Any kind of support or crowd we could get will mean a lot to us and be a big bonus. We have to go play. We have to play well. We have to play tough. Any little bit of advantage you can gain is huge. Clearly, we have the opportunity now.”
The NCAA bid is the first as a head coach for Mitchell, who was named the SEC Coach of the Year this season. He is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, however, as he went to the NCAA Final Four with Tennessee as a graduate assistant in 200 and helped lead Florida to two NCAA Tournament appearances (2001 and 2002) as an assistant coach with the Gators.
It is the seventh overall NCAA Tournament berth for the Cats, but their first trip since the 2006 season. UK is 4-6 all-time in the Big Dance and the No. 4 seed is the highest for UK Hoops since its 1983 trip to the NCAA Tournament as No. 3 seed.
The best finish for UK came in the very first NCAA Tournament in 1982 when the Wildcats fell one win shy of the Final Four, losing to eventual national champion Louisiana Tech.
Kentucky was one of six Southeastern Conference teams to be awarded a bid to the NCAA Tournament. SEC regular-season and tournament champion Tennessee earned the No. 1 seed in the Memphis Regional, while Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt all made the tournament field.
Top-ranked Connecticut earned the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and will play 16th-seeded Southern University in the Dayton Regional. The Huskies and Lady Vols were joined by top seeds Stanford (Sacramento Regional) and Nebraska (Kansas City Regional). The Final Four will be played April 4 and 6 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Liberty (27-5) claimed the 2010 Big South Conference Tournament with a 68-66 victory against No. 1-seed Gardner-Webb in the tournament finals. The Flames have won 10 consecutive games leading into the NCAA Tournament and 20 of their last 21 contests. Liberty has won the Big South Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament 10 times in the last 11 years, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004-05.
UK is 1-1 all-time vs. Liberty and has never met the Flames in post-season play. UK’s last matchup with Liberty was in 1999. The Cats are 9-12 all-time in Freedom Hall.