Connecticut stands in Kentucky’s way again

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Matthew Mitchell is trying to build Kentucky into a women’s basketball power. Getting to the Final Four for the first time will be a huge step toward that goal.

Mitchell’s team is one victory away, and Connecticut stands in the way for the second straight season. The teams played last year, and UConn came away with a 15-point victory. They’ll meet again Monday night in the Bridgeport Regional final.

“This program’s come a long way and made a tremendous amount of progress in last four years,” Mitchell said Sunday. “We want to be the best team in the country, and that doesn’t happen by making one Final Four. One Final Four is an outstanding achievement and something we’re working hard to get to. It’s a huge step we’re 40 minutes away from.”

The Wildcats have made the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons and reached the regional finals in three of those years. The run has impressed UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

“Kentucky was one of those places where, if they get the right coach, they’ll be really good,” he said. “Any place that’s good in men’s basketball should be good in women’s basketball. (Matt has) carved out his own style, and I don’t know if anybody’s gotten that far that quickly and done a better job in the country than they have.”

Now they just need to take that next step. The Wildcats have been focused on the Final Four since they started practice. Hanging in front of their locker room is the Final Four logo with a clock next to it.

Ever since the first day of practice back in early October, that clock has been counting down the days, hours and minutes until the Final Four in New Orleans. The second-seeded Wildcats hope to be in New Orleans Arena when the clock reaches zero.

Whether they advance or not, it’s been a record year for the Wildcats (30-5). Kentucky has the most victories in school history. Not bad for a school rich in basketball tradition on the men’s side, winning its eighth national championship last season in New Orleans.

While the Wildcats are hoping for their first national semifinals appearance, the Huskies are trying to make the Final Four for a record sixth consecutive year. It’s been an unusual season for UConn, which for the first time in 19 years didn’t win either the Big East regular-season or tournament title. Now the Huskies have a chance at another title — an eighth national championship.

“I’m hoping everybody realizes that this is literally the last opportunity,” UConn senior Kelly Faris said. “And I’m hoping everybody’s getting the sick feeling in their stomach from losing every time.”