LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 12 University of Kentucky women’s basketball team has been selected as an at-large team in the 2016 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, earning a No. 3 seed in the Lexington Regional.
The Wildcats (23-7) will face 14th-seeded UNC Asheville in the first round on Saturday, March 19 inside Memorial Coliseum. The game will air live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET.
For the third time in program history and third year in a row, Kentucky has been selected to host the first and second rounds of the tournament inside historic Memorial Coliseum. The games will be held Saturday and Monday. The other first-round matchup in Lexington features sixth-seeded Oklahoma against 11th-seeded Purdue at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The No. 3 seed for Kentucky is its third in program history and marks the fifth straight season that the Wildcats have been a top-three seed in the event. The Wildcats were last a No. 3 seed in 2014 when they defeated Wright State and Syracuse in the first two rounds before falling to second-seeded Baylor in the regional semifinals.
“I am just really proud of our team for making the tournament this year,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell (pictured) said. “It is never a guarantee to make the tournament, you have to go earn it and our team really worked hard starting last June. So it is a great reward for a lot of hard work and we are excited to be in the tournament again.
"Our administration stepping up and supporting women’s basketball and having the tournament here without any guarantee that we would be here and still supporting it is really a credit to them. Then for our team to work hard enough and be able to earn a Top 16 seed and host in Memorial Coliseum is great. So they had to earn that and I am grateful the committee put us in Lexington.
"We are going to have to really work hard to get a victory in the first round, but the prospects to get to play in Lexington for the Sweet 16 is exciting and our team needs to work out. Our community really needs to come out and buy some tickets and support it no matter who is in the regional.”
If UK wins the first two games at Memorial Coliseum, the Cats will advance to Sweet Sixteen in the Lexington Regional at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky is 17-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 13-6 record under Mitchell. The best finishes for UK came in the 2013, 2012, 2010 and 1982 when the Wildcats fell one win shy of the Final Four. Last season, UK fell in the second round. Over the last seven seasons, Kentucky has advanced to three Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s.
UNC Asheville (26-6) enters the event after winning the Big South Tournament championship. The Bulldogs are averaging 69.4 points per game this season, allowing opponents to score 57.7 points per game. Chatori Major leads the team with 13.9 points per game, adding 44 assists and 36 steals.
Kentucky and UNC Asheville have met twice in program history with the Wildcats holding a 2-0 record in the series. Both meetings came in 1995, with UK winning 98-76 at home before a 70-55 win on the road.
Kentucky was one of nine Southeastern Conference teams to be awarded a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening. South Carolina earned an automatic bid to the tournament after winning the conference tournament, and is a No. 1 seed in the Sioux Falls Regional. Mississippi State, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are also going to the Big Dance.
Also earning No. 1 seeds are Connecticut, Notre Dame and Baylor. Connecticut, Baylor and Notre Dame each won their respective conference regular season and tournament titles to receive automatic bids. The Final Four will be played April 3 and 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
Photo by UK Athletics