The No. 6 Syracuse Orange women's basketball team looks to do what the men couldn't do – get to the Sweet Sixteen. (Too soon?) SU is playing at 6:40 on ESPN2. The opponent: the three-seeded Kentucky Wildcats. No, they are not coached by John Calipari. And no, they didn't have a dominating center with an infamous unibrow.
At least, I hope not.
But here's what to know about the Wildcats: they went 25-8 this season (10-6 SEC) and destroyed No. 14 Wright State, 106-60, in the first round. If that wasn't enough, the Wildcats will be playing in their home gym, Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington. Meanwhile, Syracuse will be without leading scorer Brittney Sykes, so the Orange has quite an uphill battle.
I reached out to our SB Nation brethren over at Kentucky's A Sea of Blue to find out what to expect tonight. My answers to his Syracuse-related questions can be found here. Without further ado, here's my Q&A with Glenn Logan:
What should we know about this Kentucky team?
Well, I guess the first thing is that Kentucky is not about execution, but about effort. UK will fight you for every ball, every inch, every possession. The new rules forced Matthew Mitchell (the UK coach) to back off the pressure a little, but he's also instituted a much more high-powered early offense.
The second thing you should know is that Kentucky will fight you every inch of the court. The Wildcats earn their living by being in the opponent's face, and can do all the little things that make it hard on their opponents to score. Mitchell is a defense-first coach, but he has some very powerful offensive players on this team.
Looking over the stat sheet, I see that the Wildcats score in bunches, but don't have one scorer over 13 points per game. Is there any way to slow down Kentucky?
Well, there was after DeNesha Stallworth got hurt. But since she's returned to pre-knee surgery form, it's much tougher. Jennifer O'Neill is a dominant combo guard who can kill foes both from the perimeter and on penetration. Mackayla Epps, since being move to the point, has been an assist assassin, tossing balls to everyone in good places. And Linnae Harper has suddenly transformed from a raw McDonald's All-American into a major threat from everywhere.
But Kentucky occasionally suffers from bad shot selection, poor ballhandling, and general head-hanging. Mitchell has tried to deal with the latter with substitutions to some effect, but if you can get UK on their heels, they tend to stay there for several possessions.
Syracuse isn't a great offensive team and will be without leading scoring Brittney Sykes. SU wins by getting turnovers with its fullcourt press. Are the Wildcats likely to make mistakes if pressured?
Maybe. This UK team handles pressure well sporadically, but when they do, they can be devastating in the full court. O'Neill and Harper can just crush a defense with their shooting and quickness, and Stallworth runs the floor like a deer. Azia Bishop is also a major inside presence, and she can do amazing things occasionally.
But Kentucky can get rattled and break down. You just have to take your chances and hope for the best.
I'm sure you'll be shocked to hear this, but a Syracuse basketball team plays a 2-3 zone halfcourt defense. The old adage is that the way to beat a zone is by shooting threes over it. Who on the Wildcats should we watch out for in this department?
Jen O'Neill is a devastating shooter from the perimeter, if a bit streaky. You can't ever let Bria Goss shoot, she's a threat to make them all and makes 90% from the free throw line. Linae Harper is good some nights, bad others. Kastine Evans is also a major perimeter threat.
So you have to be careful about who is out there. Jenee Thompson and Bernesha Pinkett can also make them, but Thompson prefers to penetrate and Pinkett doesn't play that much.
At Syracuse, there's a big home-court advantage at the Carrier Dome. How much do you think it helps the Wildcats to play in Lexington?
It helps quite a bit. We bring a good attendance to women's games, and we really appreciate the effort they put in and the quality of Mitchell's reciting. The game will be well-attended and it will be a partisan Kentucky crowd.
Kentucky looks like a pretty complete team to me. Is there any weakness that an underdog like Syracuse can exploit?
Yes. Kentucky is thin on the front line. If you can get Stallworth, Samarie Walker and Bishop into foul trouble, you can really hurt UK's chances.
Finally, is this the last game for Syracuse (men's or women's) basketball this season? What's your final score prediction?
I've no idea, but I'd give Kentucky the nod 72-66 in a home game.