LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky players hope playing at home gets them off to a positive start on what they hope is a journey to that ends with a long-sought Final Four berth.
Considering the home success the Wildcats have had, their chances of reaching their fourth regional final in five years look promising.
Third-seeded Kentucky (24-8) will host its first-ever women's NCAA tournament game when the Wildcats play 14th-seeded Wright State (26-8) Saturday in the Notre Dame Regional. The Wildcats could play two home contests this weekend, and have won 44 straight nonconference games on their floor.
The surging Raiders are on a six-game winning streak, earning their first tournament berth. No. 6 Syracuse (22-9) faces No. 11 Chattanooga (29-3) in the other matchup, looking to halt the Lady Mocs' 25-game winning streak.
Opening the tournament at Memorial after four straight years on the road is a welcome change for the Wildcats, 12-4 at home this season.
"Certainly, I'd rather be playing here than playing in Wright State's gym," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said Friday. "It's an advantage, but we're really trying to focus on our play and what we need to do to be successful Saturday morning. ...I don't want the players to think somehow that the building is going to win the game for them because that's not going to happen."
Still, guard Jennifer O'Neill is happy the Wildcats are playing in familiar surroundings.
"Just knowing the gym and knowing how well we shoot in there," she said, "I think that is going to help us."
With 6-foot forward Tayler Stanton as Wright State's tallest starter, Kentucky's length could be a challenge for the Raiders. Wright State coach Mike Bradbury also believes the Raiders will have their hands full dealing with the Wildcats' athleticism, but said his squad won't back down in its first tourney game.
"They're going to play to their strength and we'll try to play to ours," Bradbury said. "I don't think we can change them."
In the other game, Syracuse seeks its first NCAA tournament win when they take on a red-hot Chattanooga squad looking to improve its 1-11 NCAA tournament record.
"We know that this is a bigger stage, a different type of game," Lady Mocs forward Taylor Hall said. "(The Orange) present some challenges we haven't faced before, so that is something new for us. It's nice to be on a streak like that, just (having) some momentum behind us."