LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 17/16 Kentucky women’s basketball team earned its eighth bid to the NCAA Tournament with a No. 4 seed in the Spokane Regional when the tournament pairings were released on Monday evening. The Wildcats (24-8) will square off with 13th-seeded Hampton (25-6) in the first round Saturday, March 19 at University of New Mexico Arena in Albuquerque, N.M.
The other first-round match-up at New Mexico features No. 5 seed North Carolina (26-8) and No. 12 seed Fresno State. (25-7). The Tarheels and Bulldogs square off at 4 p.m. EST on ESPN2 with Kentucky’s game against the Lady Pirates 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 are excited to know where we are going now and to have an opponent to prepare for,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We will work hard on ourselves, on Kentucky. I still think (our up-tempo style) will be key in the tournament. We are going to play as close to our identity as we can. We are going to play up-tempo. It’s a lot of fun now that we are about to start the tournament. I am just so proud of this team for returning to the NCAA tournament. I am looking forward to getting ready for it, and I am looking forward to going to Albuquerque.”
The Albuquerque pod is hosted by the University of New Mexico and will be played at the University of New Mexico Arena (The Pit). Session booklets which include all three games are only $28 for adults and $18 for students. Single session tickets are $17 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets are available through New Mexico’s ticket office at 1-800-955-HOWL or online at https://www.unmtickets.com/ncaa_2011.aspx.
It is the eighth overall NCAA Tournament berth for the Cats and their first back-to-back appearances since the 1982 and 1983 seasons. UK is 7-7 all-time in the Big Dance, including a 3-1 mark under Mitchell. The No. 4 seed is the highest since last year’s Elite Eight squad also received a No. 4 seed.
The best finishes for UK came in 2010 and 1982 when the Wildcats fell one just win shy of the Final Four. UK defeated Liberty, Michigan State and top-seeded Nebraska last season before falling to No. 12 Oklahoma in the Regional Finals. In 1982, the Cats defeated Illinois and South Carolina before losing to eventual national champion Louisiana Tech on the Lady Techsters’ home floor.
Kentucky was one of four 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 Knoxville Regional, while Georgia, a No. 6 seed, and Vanderbilt, a No. 10 seed, also made the tournament field.
Top-ranked Connecticut earned the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and will play 16th-seeded Hartford University in the Philadelphia Regional. The Huskies and Lady Vols were joined by top seeds Stanford (Spokane Regional) and Baylor (Dallas Regional). The Final Four will be played April 3 and 5 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Hampton (26-6) claimed the 2011 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament with a 61-42 victory against Howard University in the tournament finals. The Lady Pirates have won 13 consecutive games leading into the NCAA Tournament and 24 of their last 26 contests. It will be Hampton’s second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
UK has never played Hampton in a women’s basketball game but does hold a 5-0 record against the current alignment of the MEAC. The Cats are 1-0 all-time in the University of New Mexico Arena, having last played there against the Lobos in 1999.