No. 17 UK Women’s Hoops Earns 15th Appearance in NCAA Tournament

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – The No. 17 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team has been selected as an at-large team in the 2019 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, earning the Wildcats’ ninth appearance in the last 10 seasons in the event. Sixth-seeded Kentucky (24-7) will face 11th-seeded Princeton (22-9) in the first round on Saturday inside Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. The game will air live on ESPN2 (regionalization applied) at 11 a.m. ET.

For the first time since 2013, the Wildcats will travel for the first and second rounds after hosting each of the last four appearances. NC State will play as the host of the first- and second- round games which will be held Saturday and Monday. The other first-round matchup in Raleigh features third-seeded NC State against 14th-seeded Maine at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Ticket information will be available at gopack.com.

The Wildcats earned a No. 6 seed in the event, marking the second time the Wildcats have been a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time since 2006 that UK has not earned a top-four seed in the event. The last time UK held a No. 6 seed was in the 1999 tournament when it played in Los Angeles defeating Nebraska 98-92 in the first round before falling to UCLA in the second round.

Kentucky is 20-14 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 16-8 record under Mitchell. The best finishes for UK came in 2013, 2012, 2010 and 1982 when the Wildcats fell one win shy of the Final Four. This is Kentucky’s 15th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since hosting the first and second rounds in 2016-17. The Wildcats are 11-3 all-time in first-round games and are 8-0 under Mitchell in opening round games.

The Wildcats enter the event with a 24-7 record and ranked 17th in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Kentucky went 11-5 in conference play to earn the No. 4 seed in the 2019 Southeastern Conference Tournament, the 10th time under Mitchell that UK has finished top four in the league.

UK has been led this season by freshman guard Rhyne Howard who last week was named espnW National Freshman of the Year. The rookie is averaging 16.3 points per game with 6.7 rebounds per game and has made a team-high tying 68 3s. Howard has also added 70 assists and 64 steals. Senior guard Maci Morris is averaging 14.9 points per game and has it 68 3s with a 3-point percentage of 38.6 percent, which ranks top-10 nationally. Fellow senior guard Taylor Murray is averaging 12.5 points per game and leads UK with 115 assists and 98 steals.

Princeton (22-9) defeated Penn 65-54 on Sunday to claim the Ivy League Tournament Championship and secure an automatic bid into the event. The Tigers enter the tournament on a 12-game winning streak having rolled through Ivy League competition the last two months. Princeton lose seven of its first eight games to start the season.

The Tigers have been led this season by Bella Alarie is averaging 23.0 points per game with 10.4 rebounds per game while Carlie Littlefield is averaging 13.5 points per game with 88 assists. Gabrielle Rush is averaging 12.5 points per game and has hit 87 3-pointers this season. As a team, Princeton is averaging 70.7 points per game hitting 6.8 3s per game.

Kentucky was one of seven Southeastern Conference teams to be awarded a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening. Mississippi State earned an automatic bid to the tournament after winning the conference tournament, and is a No. 1 seed in the Portland Regional. South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and Tennessee are also going to the Big Dance.

Also earning No. 1 seeds are Louisville, Notre Dame and Baylor. Baylor and Notre Dame each won its respective conference tournament titles to receive automatic bids. The Final Four will be played April 5 and 7 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, Fla.

For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit UKathletics.com or follow @KentuckyWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

2019 First and Second Round Schedule
Reynolds Coliseum – Raleigh, N.C.
First Round – Saturday, March 23
(6) Kentucky vs. (11) Princeton – 11 ET – ESPN2 (regionalization applies)
(3) NC State vs. (14) Maine – 1 p.m. ET – ESPN2 (regionalization applies)

Second Round – Monday, March 25
Winner game 1 vs. Winner game 2 – Time TBA – TV TBA (Winner into XX Regional semifinal)

Here are quotes from Head Coach Matthew Mitchell and players:

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell
Opening statement…
“Well, I’m so proud of the team for getting a bid to the NCAA Tournament. We started last June with this goal to hear our name called on Selection Monday and a lot of work went into it, a lot of hard work. A lot of sacrifice the players made for each other, so we’re proud of that and we’re excited to have a chance to play and compete for a national championship. So, you can’t do that unless you get in the tournament, so we’re really proud of the team and we’re excited to play on Saturday.”

On if you were disappointed in the way the NCAA Tournament draw was released…
“Well, you know, you just have to take life the way that some things come at you. I was not surprised how the team handled it. They have been so about the right thing this year and you’ve worked hard and you’ve waited a long time, but some things happen and they handled it great. They’re excited to play. I think they just want to go play. So, we have all made a lot of mistakes, so whoever did that just made a mistake, so we’ll extend them some grace and move on. So, we’re excited to be playing and I think that’s what the team is excited about right now is the opportunity to play and finally know. It is such a long time to wait. You know, we’ve played Saturday or Sunday in the SEC Tournament so many times and to go out on Friday just makes it a long time, even longer, so the team handled it great. We’re excited. We had a great practice session today. So, we left practice and went right off the floor and saw who we were playing.”

On how you feel about the bracket…
“Well, what we’re concerned about right now is the Princeton Tigers and they are the class of the Ivy League. I know their coach really well and she’s an awesome coach and they have a lot of experience in the tournament. I have not seen them play this year, we’ll go after this and start digging into the Princeton Tigers. We’re just so happy to be playing. Really I think it has been good for us, that we’ve been able to focus on us. You know, you don’t know who you’re playing, so all you have is to work hard and really try to come together and be the best version of Kentucky and over the past few days and I really like what I see form that standpoint. So, we’re going to turn it loose and give it everything we have and we’re very excited to be playing.”

On the two-week rest and how that can benefit players who have been banged up…
“Well, I think for this particular team and this particular year, it was really good for us. Coming down the stretch, we were playing tough games, we were trying to position ourselves. After that eighth win in the conference we thought we were in the tournament, we felt pretty good that we would be in the tournament. So now, those last four games were very good teams and very tough teams and then another in the conference tournament, so five games in a real grind had depleted us a little bit, from an emotion standpoint and energy standpoint. So, we were able to get three days off, completely off of basketball and school, it was spring break. So, I thought that was great. We were able to come back with some bounce. We scrimmaged on Saturday to try to keep some rest from setting in and I thought they were very energetic, so I think the time off helped us. We had another great session today, and that is what we need. We need energy, we need enthusiasm, we need to be the aggressors, we need to be on the attack, we don’t need our tank half empty. We need to be ready to roll and I think the time off was very beneficial, I think the players did a good job pf rebounding from a tough SEC season.”

On if UK’s aggressive style is an advantage in the NCAA Tournament…
“We try. We try for it to be tough in tournament basketball. The SEC just gets so tough because you play year after year after year, and a lot of us have a personality, and a lot of long tenured coaches that know what’s going on. So, the Missouri game in the tournament, we knew what they were going to do, they knew what we were going to do, and it’s just an absolute grind. So, I do think that once we can get into the tournament sometimes it is to our advantage that the opponent is not as familiar with us. But, you still have to go out and make the plays. I think that the best shot someone has is that, you know, you’re trying to work your way through the tournament, so we have to find some way to defeat Princeton and that will be our sole focus. But, if we can get past that first game in the weekend, now you’ve got one day to prepare for the opponent and they have one day to prepare for you. So, you hope that that’s an advantage, but there is such great teams in the tournament and everybody is there for a reason and think you have to stay so focused on trying to be the very best you can because the clichés are out the window now. It really is a 40-minute season and you have to put everything you can into that. Hopefully our hard work that we’ve put in to being a disruptive defensive team and an up-tempo offensive team, we certainly hope that’s a benefit to us in the tournament.”

On if Maci Morris has become healthier with a couple of weeks off…
“Yeah, I think that that was something that hampered her throughout the SEC portion of the schedule, so the rest and recovery for her and the treatment that she has received, I think that she is feeling a lot better. She is feeling really confident in her health right now, so that was one of the big reasons, of many, one of the things I wanted to see on Saturday in the scrimmage was getting her back in game action and seeing how she is feeling and moving, and help her get her timing going. But, here is one thing to know about Maci Morris, she is one of the most incredibly competitors I have ever been around. I can promise you she wants to win on Saturday and she will move heaven and earth to get it done. So, on my list of concerns, she is way down the list. I can tell you that she will be ready to roll Saturday.”

On getting to the NCAA Tournament nine times…
“Well, I’m really proud of this particular bid to the tournament. You know, it’s our ninth in 12 years and we’ve had some great success over those 12 years. But, you think back a year ago today our name was not called, incredible disappointment for the first time in eight years, and the players felt that. They knew what that meant and it was incredibly crushing and incredibly disappointing. I think back to last year, I think all of the work that we were putting in, we weren’t getting the results on the scoreboard, but all that work way paying off and it payed off in the offseason, and this is a team that the sum is greater than the parts. That is a true team and a true testament to these players, and I’m particularly proud of this bid to the tournament. They’ve worked hard for it and overcame a lot, and I think that’s why they’re so excited to play.”

#4 Maci Morris, Sr. G
On the NCAA Tournament being your last game(s) at UK…
“We’ve got to try and go out the best we can. Since our freshmen year we have tried to make it the Final Four and that’s our goal again this year.”

On if it bothered the team that the NCAA Tournament draw was released early…
“Not really, I’ve been kind of anxious to find out who we would play and where we were going, so finding out a little sooner wasn’t too bad.”

On what Matthew Mitchell said about missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year and how it feels to be back in it this year…
“I mean, I think we’re definitely not taking it for granted and just being able to experience it with these players. I believe only me, Jaida (Roper) and Tay (Taylor Murray) are the only players that are eligible this year to play that have been to the NCAA Tournament, so it’s going to be a fun experience for the rest of the girls.”

On what you tell the younger teammates who will experience the NCAA Tournament for the first time…
“Just to enjoy it. It’s the most fun time of the year. This is what we’ve worked all season for, to try and make a run in the NCAA Tournament and trying to make it to the Final Four. So, again, just taking it one game at a time and just enjoy the moment.”

On your health and if it bothered you to not be 100 percent for a while…
“I mean, for sure. Any athlete will be frustrated not to be able to perform the way they want to, but you just have to take it day by day. Time is on your side when it comes to healing yourself, so luckily we’ve had time to help it heel and I’m excited to get back out there and play like we used to.”

On how your mentality changes from the SEC Tournament to the NCAA Tournament…
“Just have to have a short memory. It is what it is with the SEC Tournament and we’ve just got to learn from our mistakes and take that into our next game, and we take it game by game and just try to get that win.”

#24 Taylor Murray, Sr., G
On if it bothered the team that the NCAA Tournament draw was released early…
“Coach Mitchell told us that we had a surprise and when he said the surprise we were like, wow. But, I mean, we’re glad that we are in the NCAA and we know who we are playing because it gives us more time to prepare.”

On what Matthew Mitchell said about missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year and how it feels to be back in it this year…
“Oh yeah, it makes us appreciate it. We’ve worked hard from the start of June and progressing and to putting it together and seeing the positive.”

On if you worry about the two weeks off creating rust…
“I wouldn’t say rust, because we’ve been in the gym since we lost in the SEC Tournament. So, we’ve been getting up shots , we’ve been scrimmaging a lot, so I think we should be pretty good conditioning wise, and we’ve bene in the gym today getting up shots, so continuing that and then getting into the game plan, we should be good to go.”

On how your mentality changes from the SEC Tournament to the NCAA Tournament…
“I think that the lessons we learned in the SEC Tournament we can take it to the NCAA, have a different game plan, but also have fun with it to and stay positive and have fun.”

On UK playing aggressive on defense and if that is an advantage…
“I enjoyed our defense that we have this year, but I think like us playing with our defense is a go-getter for different teams because we have so many different defensive abilities that they don’t know what we’re going to be able to play. So, we’ve ben touching on that a lot since we’ve been off and addressing it.”

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