No. 17 Kentucky Ready for NCAA Tournament Opener vs. Princeton

Posted at 12:47 PM, Mar 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-22 12:47:24-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a successful regular season that saw the Wildcats win 24 games and finish top four in the Southeastern Conference, the No. 17 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team looks to continue its winning ways this postseason as it begins NCAA Tournament play Saturday at 11 a.m. ET vs. Princeton.

The game will be played in Raleigh, N.C. inside Reynolds Coliseum as No. 3-seed NC State plays host to the first and second rounds. The game will be televised regionally on ESPN2 with the entire state of Kentucky seeing the contest while a majority of the nation will be in whip-around coverage. Darren Headrick will have the game on the UK Sports Network on 98.5 FM in Lexington.

Every game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament can be streamed through WatchESPN. The other first-round matchup in Raleigh features third-seeded NC State against 14th-seeded Maine at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Ticket information will be available at

The Wildcats earned a No. 6 seed in the event, marking the second time the Wildcats have been a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time since 2006 that UK has not earned a top-four seed in the event. The last time UK held a No. 6 seed was in the 1999 tournament when it played in Los Angeles defeating Nebraska 98-92 in the first round before falling to UCLA in the second round.

Kentucky is 20-14 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 16-8 record under Mitchell. The best finishes for UK came in 2013, 2012, 2010 and 1982 when the Wildcats fell one win shy of the Final Four. This is Kentucky’s 15th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since hosting the first and second rounds in 2016-17. The Wildcats are 11-3 all-time in first-round games and are 8-0 under Mitchell in opening round games.

The Wildcats enter the event with a 24-7 record and are ranked 17th in both the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today/Coaches Top 25. Kentucky went 11-5 in conference play to earn the No. 4 seed in the 2019 Southeastern Conference Tournament, the 10th time under Mitchell that UK has finished top four in the league.

UK has been led this season by freshman guard Rhyne Howard who last week was named espnW National Freshman of the Year. The rookie is averaging 16.3 points per game with 6.7 rebounds per game and has made a team-high tying 68 3s. Howard has also added 70 assists and 64 steals. Senior guard Maci Morris is averaging 14.9 points per game and has it 68 3s with a 3-point percentage of 38.6 percent, which ranks top-10 nationally. Fellow senior guard Taylor Murray is averaging 12.5 points per game and leads UK with 115 assists and 98 steals.

Princeton (22-9) defeated Penn 65-54 on Sunday to claim the Ivy League Tournament Championship and secure an automatic bid into the event. The Tigers enter the tournament on a 12-game winning streak having rolled through Ivy League competition the last two months. Princeton lose seven of its first eight games to start the season.

The Tigers have been led this season by Bella Alarie is averaging 23.0 points per game with 10.4 rebounds per game while Carlie Littlefield is averaging 13.5 points per game with 88 assists. Gabrielle Rush is averaging 12.5 points per game and has hit 87 3-pointers this season. As a team, Princeton is averaging 70.7 points per game hitting 6.8 3s per game.

Kentucky and Princeton have never met before in women’s basketball. This is only the second time in program history that the Wildcats have played an Ivy League team with the only other meeting coming vs. Yale in Nov. of 2008, which UK won 87-82.

For more information on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, visit or follow @KentuckyWBB on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

NCAA Tournament First Round News Conference 

Reynolds Coliseum – Raleigh, N.C. 

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell 

Opening Statement …
“Well, we’re excited to be in Raleigh and participating in the NCAA Tournament. Very proud of our team. They’ve worked extremely hard all season to earn a bid to the tournament and a lot of hard work went into it, so proud of them. We have a tough, tough challenge ahead versus a very good Princeton Tiger team. So we have worked hard this week to get prepared and going to try to turn it loose and play well tomorrow morning.”

On the program’s success of winning its first game of the tournament …
“That’s a great question. I don’t know that I have anything that carries over year to year other than we try to be guided by the same principles each and every year. We just try to give a real honest effort to try to work hard and always try to be a very disciplined team. So we’ve had some tough first-round games and it seems like if you look over the years it’s never been real easy that first game of the tournament. So we’ve been fortunate to win and to do well, but I think it’s just a testament to each team trying to be honest, hardworking and disciplined.”

On the team’s health status …
“Well, we lost Kameron Roach to an Achilles tendon injury and she had surgery this week and is doing real well with her recovery and so we’ll be sad she’s not with us this week, but that’s where she is. And then everybody else, it looks like they’re a go. We’ll go live today just as we do before the game day before the game. So we won’t change that. So barring anything that happens today, we should be pretty full speed tomorrow.”

On his memories of Kay Yow and connection with Debbie Yow being a coach at UK …

“Well, to women’s college basketball, that means a whole lot to me personally. It means a lot. Kay Yow was incredibly kind to me. Incredibly generous with her time and her wisdom. She always made time for younger coaches. I was just starting my journey as a head coach really and Coach Yow was so generous to lend some time and some advice and always set a great example for coaches. And then just for people in life, she’s been such an inspiration and motivating force in doing good for others. And the Kay Yow [Cancer Fund] has done amazing work. And I can remember talking to her, I was with Amanda Butler, who’s now the coach at Clemson and, and we were good friends and we were in a gym down in the Atlanta, Georgia area, some summers back now. We just asked Coach Yow, what could we do and she just said, ‘Always keep up the fight, always keep fighting; always do good by others.’ She was just an inspirational person, great example. Her legacy continues to live on and it lives on just beyond basketball, just in serving others and caring about others. It would be hard to find somebody that doesn’t think highly of coach Kay Yow. So it’s a real honor to play on her court, real honor to be here at North Carolina State. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years in recruiting and, uh, I’ve always just been treated so well and it’s a first class institution.”

On Rhyne Howard …

“I think she’s been doing a great job of progressing and growing during her freshman year. And this is another opportunity for her to grow. It’s a different type of intensity when you get to the tournament and you know, you’re only guaranteed 40 minutes. It’s definitely an opportunity for her growth. She has really evolved over the season. She started out the season really hot from the 3-point line. I think people didn’t realize how capable she was there. And as we progressed through the non-conference and then you get into the conference season and now people know what’s going on, they really worked hard to take that away from her. And so she had to get better at scoring with a lot of attention. She had to get better at scoring around the basket and then her mid-range game. And in our last game versus Missouri in our conference tournament, you saw her score from all three levels. You saw her make some really nice plays around the basket, which is an area where she needs to continue to grow. You saw our score in the mid-range and some real difficult situations where she was guarded closely and she made you know, some plays off the bounce and been able to pass the ball and, and rebounding. So she’s a very complete player and I think she will be motivated, excited to play tomorrow. And you never know what’s going to happen the first time you take the floor and the NCAA tournament. But as far as her work ethic and her desire to be prepared for tomorrow, I give her a A-plus on that and I think she’ll be ready to go. And I know this about her and the rest of our team no matter what hand they’re dealt tomorrow morning, they’re there. They’re going to play for 40 minutes and give everything they have. And I’ve really admired the team for that. Over the course of this season, we’ve been very resilient team. We’ve won some tough games and just about everyone we’ve lost to has been a really, really tough game down to the wire. So year battle tested team and I think Ryan will take great comfort as a freshman that she’s got a tremendous supporting cast around her to help her earn a victory. And that’s what we are going to work hard to try to do tomorrow morning.”

On shaking off the rust of not playing for two weeks …
“Well sometimes it’s hard. It just, just kind of depends on the year. This year in particular the long break was beneficial for us, very beneficial because we were so banged up and we had fought so hard and the conference and in the regular season, it’s, it was a good to, to have a little time to try to get some treatment, try to get back to a place of health where we could be really energetic and enthusiastic coming into the tournament. So actually the time off helped us once we got back in the gym, we got to, you know, we’d been shooting the ball well and lately it’s been very uncharacteristic how we’d been shooting the ball. So we got back in the gym and got some reps there and I thought that was really beneficial and the practice had been high energy and enthusiastic. And then we had one scrimmage where we had officials and we tried to keep that game from setting in. We played a scrimmage there. So you do the best that you can. I thought it has been a very beneficial time for us and I think we’ll be ready to go tomorrow morning.”

On enjoying the tournament more this year since the team missed last season’s event …
“Yeah. Gratitude is something that we always need to exercise in our lives and we need to be grateful for every opportunity that we get. And I do think that from my standpoint, I’m particularly grateful for this group because you know, every team that’s ever played in an NCAA Tournament, Kentucky was not guaranteed that when the season started you have to go earn it. Every team that’s here had to earn their way in somehow. So I’m very proud of this team, very grateful for the work that went into making this, this tournament. And we put in a lot of time and a lot of people sacrifice a whole lot and a lot of different ways to make us a tournament team. So extremely grateful and know our seniors are, we’re motivated ever since the end of last season to make sure that we were in this tournament. So we have a lot of gratitude for the players, how hard they worked. I know they’re grateful for this experience and they’re going to put everything they can into making sure it’s a lengthy stay in NCAA tournaments. That’s what we’re motivated to do.”


#4 Maci Morris, G, SR

On preparing the younger players for the NCAA Tournament …

“Yeah, just like Taylor said, have fun. Enjoy the moment and just go out, energize and focus because this is the fun part.”

On missing the tournament last year …
“It was disappointing for us since we’ve been in tournament every year besides last year. And so we wanted to make sure that that didn’t happen again. And so it was really on the team about making sure that we had that focus all year round, that we make sure that we are eligible to be in the tournament.

On shaking off rust of not playing for two weeks …

“Yeah, it’s been two weeks, but within those two weeks we’ve been in the gym since losing our first game in the SEC tournament. So I think we should be pretty fine. We just have to just be Kentucky and do what we need to do.”

On the tough loss in the SEC Tournament …
“Nobody wants to lose but you just have to have a short memory and just keep playing and hopefully we can make a run in this tournament and just improve from here on out.”

On Raleigh being close to their families and if they are attending the games …
“I have some family coming down and some friends have texted me saying they’ve got tickets for the game, so I’m excited to see them.”


#24 Taylor Murray, G, JR

On preparing the younger players for the NCAA Tournament …

“We just told them just to have fun at the same time, but just say together. We also just told them that we just need to fight for one another and do what we need to do and just be Kentucky.”

On missing the tournament last year …

“The same thing that Maci said. We took the lessons that we learned from last season and just bring them to this season and I think that has helped us tremendously. I just think that we just took together and we started in June and we came all the way to March.”

On shaking off rust of not playing for two weeks …

“I don’t think rust will be a factor. I think that we’ve been in a gym preparing for this moment and with them excitement around this tournament, I think we’re going to be ready to play.”

On the tough loss in the SEC Tournament …

“The same thing that Maci said. It was a tough loss but I think we can make adjustments from that loss and improve it for our first game in the NCAA.”

On Raleigh being close to their families and if they are attending the games …
“I have like a lot of people coming. It’s drivable distance for us, so I mean that will be pretty good for us. We need our fans as much as possible.”

2019 First and Second Round Schedule

Reynolds Coliseum – Raleigh, N.C.

First Round – Saturday, March 23

(6) Kentucky vs. (11) Princeton – 11 ET – ESPN2 (regionalization applies)

(3) NC State vs. (14) Maine – 1 p.m. ET – ESPN2 (regionalization applies)

Second Round – Monday, March 25

Winner game 1 vs. Winner game 2 – Time 7/9 p.m. ET – TV TBA (Winner into Greensboro Regional semifinal)