Kentucky-UConn Preview

Matthew Mitchell is trying to build Kentucky into a women’s
basketball power. Getting to the Final Four for the first time will
be a huge step in reaching that goal.

Mitchell’s team is one victory away, and Connecticut stands in
the way for the second straight season. The two teams played last
year and UConn came away with a 15-point victory. They’ll meet
again Monday night in the Bridgeport regional final.

”This program’s come a long way and made a tremendous amount of
progress in last four years,” Mitchell said. ”We want to be the
best team in the country and that doesn’t happen by making one
Final Four. One Final Four is an outstanding achievement and
something we’re working hard to get to. It’s a huge step we’re 40
minutes away from.”

The Wildcats have made the NCAA tournament in each of the past
four seasons and reached the regional finals in three of those
years.

The run has impressed UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

”Kentucky was one of those places where if they get the right
coach they’ll be really good,” he said. ”Any place that’s good in
men’s basketball should be good in women’s basketball. (Matt’s)
carved out his own style and I don’t know if anybody’s gotten that
far that quickly and done a better job in the country than they
have.”

Now they just need to take that next step. The Wildcats have
been focused on the Final Four since they started practice. Hanging
in front of their locker room in Kentucky 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. The second-seeded Wildcats hope to be in
Louisiana when the clock reaches zero.

Whether they advance or not, it’s already been a record year for
the Wildcats (30-5). Kentucky has the most victories in school
history. Not bad for a school rich in basketball tradition on the
men’s side, winning its eighth national championship last season in
New Orleans.

While the Wildcats are hoping for their first national
semifinals appearance, the Huskies are trying to make the Final
Four for a record sixth consecutive year.

It’s been an unusual season for UConn, which for the first time
in 19 years didn’t win either the Big East regular season or
tournament title. Now the Huskies have a chance at another title –
an eighth national championship.

”I’m hoping everybody realizes that this is literally the last
opportunity,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. ”And I’m hoping
everybody’s getting the sick feeling in their stomach from losing
every time. We’ve just got to come together and play Connecticut
basketball and listen to every single thing coach says because,
obviously, he knows what he’s talking about. And if we listen to
him, we’ll be all right.”

The key to UConn’s success may come from its freshmen. The trio
of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson combined for
35 on Saturday – the fourth highest total for a first-year class in
school history.

Stewart, who was the national high school player of the year
last season, has really raised her game lately. She had 17 points
in the Huskies’ 76-50 victory over Maryland in the regional
semifinals on Saturday.

”It’s been talked about and documented that Stewie’s struggles
have been a big story for our team this year,” Auriemma said.
”She started off the year doing everything she did everywhere else
she played. Then all of a sudden when she couldn’t do it anymore,
it became more of a mental thing. Right after the Big East
tournament, I saw a change in her. Practice was different for her.
She was just more worried about failing than being focused on
succeeding. Now she’s in a good place. She’s in a really good place
right now.”

The Huskies (32-4) have won 42 of their past 43 NCAA games in
the state of Connecticut, including going 8-1 in Bridgeport. The
lone blemish came against Duke in 2006 in the regional final.

The loss to Connecticut last season is still fresh in the
Wildcats’ minds.

”We saw it as a missed opportunity,” SEC player of the year
A’dia Mathies said. ”We were there in the first half and had a
mental lapse for a couple four-minute segments. If we did a better
job staying focused we would have gone to the Final Four. We know
it could happen this year.”

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