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Navy-Kentucky Preview

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NEW YORK (AP)

Hanging in front of the Kentucky locker room is a picture of the Final Four logo with a clock next to it.

Ever since the first day of practice back in early October, that clock has been counting down the days and minutes until the Final Four in New Orleans. Now with the NCAA tournament here, the second-seeded Wildcats hope to be in Louisiana at their first Final Four when the clock reaches zero.

Kentucky will open up its NCAA tournament Sunday against No. 15 Navy.

"You have no chance of winning the national championship if you don't get to the Final Four," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We're focused on our region and trying to advance through it and win our four games."

The Wildcats made the regional final last season before falling to Connecticut. The two teams potentially could meet again in the Bridgeport final.

Kentucky (27-5), which is coming off a disappointing loss in the SEC title games to Texas A&M, has made the NCAA tournament four straight seasons and matched its best seeding.

"It's very exciting to have an opportunity to be a number 2 seed," Kentucky senior A'dia Mathies said. "Our ultimate goal is to go to the Final Four and it's achievable."

Mathies leads the team with 15.9 points per game, and as she's gone in the tournament the past three years, so has Kentucky. She's averaged 14.0 points and shot 48.1 percent in the Wildcats' seven wins over the last three tournaments, but she's been held to 10.0 points on 23.1 percent shooting in their losses.

The Midshipmen (21-11) are making their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament after winning the Patriot League tournament. Navy lost to Maryland last season and DePaul the year before.

"The big thing we learned is coming in confident and just have some fun out there," junior center Jade Geif said. "We're going to miss shots and they're going to make shots. We know it's a 15 vs. 2 seed, we'll do what we can."

No 15 seed has ever won an NCAA tournament game and Navy is trying to buck a losing trend by the Patriot League, which has dropped its past 20 games in the tournament since Holy Cross knocked off Maryland in 1991.

That doesn't deter the Mids, whose coach, Stefanie Pemper, was an assistant for Harvard when the Crimson pulled off the first and only upset by a 16 seed over No. 1 Stanford in 1998.

"It's going to be a big challenge," Pemper said. "We'll get a really good breakfast and get our rest and just dig down. The NCAA tournament is the most inspiring arena to play in as an athlete. They'll have much harder physical challenges ahead in their lives."

The winner will face either seventh-seeded Dayton or No. 10 St. John's on Tuesday for a trip to the regional semifinals.

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