Tennessee St.-Kentucky Preview
(AP) - Hosting an NCAA Tournament regional was the last thing Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell could have envisioned when the Wildcats were mired in a three-game losing streak that seemed to have them destined to start the tournament on the road.
Kentucky (23-9) regrouped down the stretch to reach the SEC tournament semifinals and earned a No. 2 seed and the opportunity to host 15th-seeded Tennessee State (18-12) on Friday.
Now the Wildcats have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years, but they have to first win their rematch with the Tigers. Kentucky's 87-75 victory in December required a first-half scoring outburst that provided a buffer against the Tigers' comeback.
Kentucky didn't have senior guards Bria Goss and Jennifer O'Neill in that game because of injuries, but both are healthy and major reasons why the Wildcats have won four of five since last month's slide.
''I believe there are some players who have made a lot of progress since then,'' Mitchell said Thursday. ''It's a different team. A lot has happened since then. We've been through a lot since that game.''
Tennessee State also has been through a lot since December.
The Tigers are on a school-record 10-game winning streak that helped them claim the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title. TSU earned its third NCAA Tournament berth and first in 20 years and gets to follow up against a Kentucky team that's strong at home.
''I know how good they are and they're very good,'' Tigers coach Larry Joe Inman said. ''I'm just excited for our kids to be here and play a team like Kentucky.''
The Wildcats have won at least two games in the NCAAs in each of their past three trips, losing to Connecticut in the regional finals in 2012 and 2013 before falling to Baylor in the Sweet 16 last season.
Another meeting with the top-ranked Huskies could loom in the regional finals this season, but getting there could be a challenge if Kentucky continues its mediocre play. The Wildcats are 4-3 in their last seven games, scoring exactly as many points as their opponents (458) and pulling down the exact same number of rebounds (285).
Kentucky isn't really a threat from beyond the arc. It's hit 25.7 percent of its 3s over the past seven games and just 28.0 percent for the season - 63rd of the 64 teams invited to the tournament.
Tennessee State isn't much more of a threat from long distance. The Tigers are shooting 28.9 percent from 3-point range, which ranks 61st in the field.