In all the hand-wringing and caterwauling over the men's seeding in this year's tournament, we've yet to hear very much about how our ladies won the tournament lottery, but they really did! In addition to getting to play the first two games in Memorial Coliseum, if the Cats make it to the Sweet 16 they'll get to play their next two games in the familiar confines of Rupp Arena. Ok, yes, they're in the same bracket as Notre Dame, Stanford and Maryland but look - NO UCONN! It's a March Madness Miracle!
So what do we know about the Bulldogs? (Other than wow, a lot of teams are called the Bulldogs?) We know Head Coach Brenda Kirkpatrick is a pistol. In the press conference Friday she spoke openly about how the Bulldogs had zero Division I wins in her first season, were 9-22 last year, and this year won the Big South Conference. That is a remarkable turnaround and one that deserves a ton of respect.
We also know that Asheville is not used to playing in front of the crowds the Cats draw in Lexington, but they are looking forward to the challenge. When asked about playing at Kentucky, Kirkpatrick said "They know that Kentucky has some of the best basketball attendance in the nation. That's great. I told our kids the very first day of practice that we want that. We want that as a challenge for us, but we want that for Kentucky women's basketball and for the game of women's basketball. I would be disappointed if there is not 6,500 Big Blue in the stands tomorrow. That's not going to be a good experience...So they're expecting that, but expecting it and actually going through it are two different things."
We also know the Bulldogs are coming off a Big South Championship game with a quality 64-62 win over Liberty University. Liberty may be a conservative Christian school but I've seen their athletes in action and Jerry's kids don't play for funsies. (Case in point: UK/Liberty was one of the dirtiest hockey games I've ever attended. Someone was ejected for an attempted head butt.) Asheville players to watch include Chatori Major, who leads the team in scoring with 13.9 points per game. Major is also their leader in steals. Also keep your eyes on Tianna Knuckles, who's averaging 12.3 points per game and leads the team in 3 point shooting, hitting 72 from beyond the arc so far this season. (In case you were wondering if 72 three pointers is a lot, Janee Thompson is the Cats' best three point shooter and she's only made 52 all season.)
Asheville plays a very aggressive style of defense - what else should we expect of a coach who studied under Florida's Amanda Butler - and the Cats will need to take advantage of all the down time they've had since their last game to shut down the Bulldogs.
Let's talk timing: there is some cross over with the guys' highly anticipated game against IU which starts at 5:15 EDT, but we can still enjoy UK Hoops for the first half. Sadly, I cannot buy anyone who joins the thread pizza like Matthew Mitchell is doing in Lexington, but I will spring for unlimited virtual pizza and wings.
Until 4 PM and tipoff, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!