Can Kentucky’s “40 minutes of dread” lead them to the Final Four over Connecticut?

Connecticut players.
Connecticut players during the NCAA tournament.

If Matthew Mitchell and Kentucky are going to have the opportunity to continue their season down south in New Orleans, they are going to have to fight through the New England cold of Husky country once again.

For the second straight year, the Wildcats ventured into New England (last year Kingston, Rhode Island and this year Bridgeport, Connecticut) to take on the Huskies with Final Four berth on the line.

Top-seeded Connecticut faces second-seeded Kentucky tonight, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Kentucky has struggled a bit in the tournament thus far, needing a half before they pulled away from Navy in the first round, and then handling Dayton with comparative ease. Delaware was a much more difficult task, as the Wildcats held off a furious second half charge to defeat the Hens and end Elena Delle Donne’s college career. UConn will provide Kentucky with its toughest challenge yet.

“Connecticut certainly has our respect,” said Mitchell, “we think they are a terrific team.”

The theme of “40 minutes of dread” has been the mantra this season for Kentucky. They have used an aggressive, disrupting defense to cause opponents to come out of their comfort zone. However applying it to a well-rounded UConn team is different than using it on a one-player dominated team like Delaware.

“With Connecticut, you are certainly not focused on one player,” explained Mitchell. “You’re focused more on how their team is getting involved in different things. We have to work really, really hard defensively from a fundamental stand point to have success against a team like Connecticut because they are so solid offensively.”

Recently, leg injuries have hampered UConn center Stefanie Dolson. But, her presence on the court, as well as that of emerging post Breanna Stewart, gives UConn an advantage over most teams that cannot contain their size and offensive abilities.

Kentucky needs to keep DeNesha Stallworth out of foul trouble and on the court to combat the size of the Huskies. They will need the referees to “let them play” for Stallworth and Samarie Walker to compete inside against the UConn duo.

In the backcourt, UConn faces the task of defending the big shot capabilities of A’dia Mathies, Jennifer O’Neill and Kastine Evans. They have made big plays in the tournament.

The Kentucky players must defend the sharp shooting Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and must keep her from getting open three-point shot attempts. Mosqueda-Lewis also has shown the ability to back down guards that cannot match her strength, but Mathies is one of the few that can defend her down low.

Freshman point guard Moriah Jefferson has been a surprise for UConn in the post-season, giving them defensive quickness and pressure, using that to create offense as well. O’Neill will have to watch her ball handling when Jefferson is around.

The leadership and poise of Kelly Faris is an understated element in Connecticut’s success, and with three freshmen playing big parts of the Huskies’ rotation (Stewart, Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck), Faris will be relied on to anchor the team as the pressure mounts, should the game be close into the second half.

No team has made it to the Final Four for six consecutive seasons; UConn sits at five right now. Stanford was in the same position, and Georgia took them out of the tournament on Saturday night.

With Stanford and Baylor out of the tournament, Connecticut and Notre Dame are the only top seeds still around.

Last night, Louisville played giant-killer, taking out Baylor. Tonight, Kentucky will try to become the second school from the state to eliminate the top seed.

In a few hours we will know if they can do it.

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