LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky women’s basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell has announced a rigorous non-conference schedule for the 2016-17 season that features six games against 2016 NCAA Tournament teams, including five teams that were ranked or receiving votes in the final 2015-16 USA Today/Coaches Top 25.
“Every year we look to put together a challenging non-conference schedule to prepare us for the always tough SEC slate. This year will be no different as we start our season with two NCAA Tournament teams from last year in Miami (Fla.) and Albany and end non-conference play at Duke, which is always a huge challenge. In between, we play some of the very toughest programs in the country,” Mitchell said. “The best part of our non-conference schedule is getting to play 10 games at home in front of our fans, including a multi-team event to start the season. I’m excited for the players to get back on campus next week as we get another season started.”
The demanding slate includes games against 2016 NCAA Tournament participants Miami (Fla.), Albany, Oklahoma, Louisville, Middle Tennessee and Arizona State. Five of those teams were either ranked or receiving votes in last year’s final rankings with Miami finishing 24th, while Oklahoma was 23rd, Arizona State was 16th, Louisville was 14th and Albany was receiving votes. In all, eight non-conference opponents won 20 or more games last season.
After beginning the season with their lone exhibition contest on Nov. 3 against Union University at 7 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum, the Wildcats will host the Kentucky Classic from Nov. 11-13 with Miami (Fla.) and Albany. Kentucky will play Miami, who went 24-9 last season, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum before hosting Albany on Nov. 12 also at 7 p.m. ET. The event will conclude with Miami and Albany squaring off at 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 13 inside the Coliseum.
The annual Winning Tools Education Day, where local elementary school students attend a game and learn the importance of a college education, will be Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. ET against New Hampshire before the Wildcats hit the road for the first time all season to play at Colorado on Nov. 19. Kentucky and Colorado met last season in Lexington with UK earning an 86-61 victory. November will wrap up with two home games, starting Nov. 23 against Morehead State at 7 p.m. ET before a Nov. 27 contest against Samford, who won 20 games in 2015-16, at 2 p.m. ET.
December will begin with the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge as Oklahoma heads to Memorial Coliseum to face Kentucky at 7 p.m. ET on Dec. 1. The game will be rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament second-round contest when the Wildcats took down the Sooners, 79-58 in Lexington to advance to the Sweet 16. UK will have a quick turnaround as it will travel to in-state rival Louisville on Dec. 4. Kentucky has won five straight games in the series, including a 72-54 victory last year in Rupp Arena.
Following the in-state showdown, UK has a four-game home stretch starting with Middle Tennessee on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. ET, before its lone game inside historic Rupp Arena on Dec. 11 against Arizona State at 2 p.m. ET. The Sun Devils won a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title a year ago and made the NCAA Tournament with 26 wins. The Wildcats conclude the home stretch against Radford, who went 18-13 last season, on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m., before facing its third Pac-12 opponent, Washington State on Dec. 21 at Noon ET inside Memorial Coliseum.
The non-conference schedule concludes Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. ET as Kentucky travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke. Last year, the Wildcats defeated the Blue Devils in Rupp Arena, 71-61 in front of a season-high 17,150 fans. The game will mark the third straight year the two teams have faced.
Kentucky, which is entering its 43rd season of varsity women’s basketball and 10th under Mitchell, is coming off its school-record seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Last season, the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for the fifth time in seven seasons – one of only seven schools nationally to claim that honor. The Wildcats ended the season with a 25-8 record and a No. 15 final ranking.
The Wildcats return several key players from last year’s squad, including two seniors in leading scorer and All-America candidate Makayla Epps and last year’s top post player in Evelyn Akhator. Epps averaged a team-best 17.1 points per game, hitting .473 from the field with 4.5 assists per game and 4.8 rebounds per game. Akhator finished third on the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game and first in rebounds with 9.3 boards per game.