Kentucky women 1 win away from 1st Final Four

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


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


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.”

Follow Doug on Twitter at