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Lady Flames Draw Kentucky in NCAA First Round
Watch ESPN's bracket announcement for the Kansas City Region
Last season, Liberty squared off against Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship. This time around, the Lady Flames will travel to Louisville, Ky., as the No. 13 seed for an NCAA first-round tilt against No. 4 seed Kentucky on Saturday.
Venerable Freedom Hall, in its final season as the home of Louisville Cardinals basketball, will serve as the venue for Saturday's pair of first-round tilts in the Kansas City regional. No. 5 seed Michigan State will meet No. 12 seed Bowling Green in the day's opening game at 12:11 p.m. At approximately 2:30 p.m., the Lady Flames will tip off against Kentucky, with both games being televised on ESPN2. Saturday's two winners will square off at Freedom Hall on Monday at 7 p.m., with a trip to Kansas City, Mo., and a coveted berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.
"This is an excellent opportunity for our team to face a high-caliber program from a great conference," noted Liberty head coach Carey Green. "I have to be pleased with a No. 13 seed. We've had some success in that spot before."
Liberty earned its 13th trip to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship in the last 14 years by virtue of its nail-biting 68-66 victory over top-seeded Gardner-Webb in Sunday's Big South Championship title game at the Millis Center in High Point, N.C. Tournament MVP Devon Brown sank the game-winning bank shot with just 4.2 seconds remaining, providing the decisive margin.
The 27-5 Lady Flames have won 10 games in a row and 20 of their last 21 contests. They enter the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship as the No. 13 seed for the fifth time. In 2005, No. 13-seeded Liberty upset Penn State and DePaul to make its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16.
Kentucky, the SEC Tournament runner-up, is making its seventh NCAA appearance and first since 2006. The Wildcats (25-7) are ranked No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 and No. 19 in the AP poll. Under the direction of third-year head coach Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky has equaled its program record for victories in a season.
The Wildcats, who lost to No. 3 Tennessee in the SEC Tournament championship game, swept the SEC's major awards. Victoria Dunlap, a 6-1 junior forward, was tabbed SEC Player of the Year, 5-9 guard A'dia Mathes garnered Freshman of the Year accolades and Mitchell was voted Coach of the Year.
"Kentucky is a very good team," Green observed. "They have an outstanding ballclub. The Wildcats are very athletic and will provide a big challenge."
Liberty and Kentucky have met twice on the basketball hardwood, with each team winning on the road. The Lady Flames claimed an 80-76 victory in Lexington on Dec. 12, 1998. The next season, the Wildcats returned the favor, dealing Liberty a 69-57 setback at the Vines Center during Green's first season as head coach.
The Lady Flames are no stranger to SEC opposition in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship. Of Liberty's 14 previous NCAA Tournament foes, eight have hailed from the SEC.
Liberty has played in Louisville before, but not in Freedom Hall. The Lady Flames traveled to Cardinal Arena for the 1996 Seelbach Classic, where they finished second. Liberty defeated Long Beach State (66-55), before falling to the host Cardinals in the title game by an 82-60 count. The Lady Flames went on to claim the program's first of 13 Big South Conference titles two months later.