NCAA tournament basketball is returning to the KFC Yum! Center this weekend. The UofL (24-8) women are the No. 5 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional and will host first and second round games.
The Cards play No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State (25-7) on Sunday, with tip set for around 2:30 p.m. In the first game of the doubleheader at noon, No. 4 seed Purdue takes on No. 13 seed Liberty.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the KFC Yum! Center box office, visiting Ticketmaster.com or at any Ticketmaster outlet. All session tickets are $32 for adults and $18 for youth/seniors/college students.
The second round game here will be played on Tuesday. The top seed in the Oklahoma City Regional is No. 1 Baylor, the defending National Champion, led by Brittney Griner. After the draw I talked with Cards head coach Jeff Walz and players Antonita Slaughter and Sara Hammond.
KENT TAYLOR: Is a 5 seed about what you expected?
JEFF WALZ: I thought we got the exact draw that we would get. Going into our conference tournament, I thought that winning our St. John’s game was going to be a big one and of course, trying to come out there and beat Notre Dame in the semis, it just didn’t work out for us. I thought the 5 was exactly what we were going to get.
TAYLOR: Coaches always preach that it’s all about matchups in the tournament. What do you know about Middle Tennessee?
WALZ: I’ve seen them on TV once. Rick Insell does a very good job with them down there, he’s been down there for a number of years, and he’s done a really good job of taking that program to the next level. I think they’ve won the Sun Belt Conference championship something like six of the last seven years. They’ll press, they like to try and run at times, their guards are talented, but they have a very good post player in Ebony Rowe, out of the Lexington area. It’s going to be a very good game and we’re going to have our hands full.
TAYLOR: How much of an advantage will it be to be playing in the KFC Yum! Center?
WALZ: I just hope our fans will come out. Everybody knows now the men are playing Thursday-Saturday, there’s not going to be a conflict with us. Our young ladies have worked so hard, they deserve to be able to play in front of eight to ten thousand, I don’t think that’s asking too much. It’s been a good year, it has not been a great year, but we’re hoping to finish it on a great note.
TAYLOR: I’m sure you’d love a shot at No. 1 Baylor?
WALZ: I’ve got to get by the first two first, and then we’ll see.
TAYLOR: At the beginning of the tournament you can look at the bracket, and look ahead a little to what could happen, right?
WALZ: Oh sure, it’s always fun to get the opportunity to get to play someone you haven’t played, to possibly get to play against a player as good as Brittney Griner, it’d be fun, at least for the first few minutes and then see how things turn out. We’d come in with a game plan, there’s no question about it, it’s just we’ve got to get there, and I know our kids are excited. I’m hoping that our fans will come out and support them and we can make this a great home court environment.
TAYLOR: How much of a relief is it to have the brackets out of the way?
ANTONITA SLAUGHTER: Coming out here knowing the first two games are at home, that really gives us more confidence, because playing in front of our crowd, it really means a lot.
TAYLOR: What kind of message would you like to get out there to fans to make sure they fill this place?
SLAUGHTER: It makes a big difference, just having 8,000 for home games in the regular season. It makes a big difference, we don’t lose at home, and I love that about our fans, they come out and support us no matter what.
TAYLOR: Do you know anything about Middle Tennessee State?
SARA HAMMOND: A little bit, just because down in my area (Rockcastle County), that’s kind of closer towards Tennessee and they’re from the Sun Belt Conference, and I know a little bit about Western Kentucky University. They have great players, they’re a very athletic team. They have Ebony Rowe, who is from Kentucky, and I think she was Sun Belt Player of the Year. I played a year of AAU with her, so I know what a great player she is and what she brings to her team, and how much they depend on her.
I think it’s going to be a great game. Come March Madness, you never know what’s going to happen, but being on our own floor gives us an advantage with the crowd and hopefully intimidates them a little.
TAYLOR: What kind of atmosphere do you expect?
HAMMOND: Just the men’s games you see in March, where thousands of fans come out. We’re top five in the nation in attendance for women’s basketball. Coach and all of us have been promoting the tickets and getting your tickets early, and Coach said that all of the teams that are coming in this region to play are close by, so they’re going to bring their fans. It’s going to be a really exciting atmosphere and hopefully for Middle Tennessee, they’ll be a little shell-shocked.
TAYLOR: It’s obviously one game at a time, and you have to win games to advance, but when you see the bracket come out, and you see Brittney Griner and Baylor in your half of the bracket, how exciting would it be to get to matchup with her?
HAMMOND: It’d be a great opportunity for us just to show what we could do against a team of their caliber and a player like her, who is probably one of the best, if not the best, player in women’s basketball history. With her size and her length, she creates a lot of problems for every team that they’ve played against. I know that we’re not going to be intimidated, our coaches set a good game plan for every team. Just because Baylor is across their chest and her name is Brittney Griner doesn’t mean that we’re going to back down and be intimidated. To have the opportunity, when we make it that far, is going to be great for us, and we’re just excited.