Navy-Kentucky Preview

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.