3:00 PM – (3) Kentucky vs Arizona State
Iron nerves at the penalty spot separated Kentucky from a scarcely believable fate in first round elimination to minnows SIU Edwardsville. The Wildcats started out jittery against the Cougars but grew into the game, yet were unable to hit the back of the net despite a ton of of opportunities to claim the decisive goal. UK moved on, but they know that another day without their shooting boots in tow will likely equal an early end to the weekend for the Wildcats. While the focus was on the offense against SIUE, the defense will have to reign on Friday, with stopping Cali Farquharson the highest priority.
Arizona State didn’t experience such a degree of drama in their first round matchup against Northern Arizona, but the fact that they still conceded twice to the minnows has to be a bit alarming. ASU were thrown a bone in the first place by drawing one of the competition’s weakest teams, not that they’re about to complain. But it also means we don’t really have a solid grip on the Sun Devils’ form at the moment. They’ve shown they can get results against some of the nation’s top teams, but the metrics have not smiled on the Sun Devils all season, making Friday afternoon’s match something of an unknown commodity.
CB – Berryhill/Grossman (ASU) vs CF – Novak? Klump? (UK)
Those question marks might be important for Kentucky, as they try and decide who to start at center-back to best trouble a stout Arizona State center-back pairing. Kelly Novak got the nod against SIU Edwardsville but didn’t last long and ended up ceding most of her minutes to Jade Klump. Klump is Kentucky’s leading scorer with eight strikes but runs hot and cold, something which has to be a worry going into the later stages of the NCAA Tournament. Whoever starts will have their hands full with junior McKenzie Berryhill, one of the top center-backs flying under the radar. If Berryhill and Mckenzie Grossman help shut down the tip of the spear for Kentucky, it’ll put more pressure on the midfield and the full-backs to create, opening up counter-attack opportunities.
LB – Gilliland (UK) vs RF – Moon (ASU)
This one’s tentative and might reveal more about Arizona State’s mindset than anything else. Aly Moon’s made a huge impression for Arizona State as a rookie and netted for the club in their win over Northern Arizona in the opening round of the tournament. The freshman has given the club some added dynamism in attack that was much needed in keeping the Pac-12 side from being so one-dimensional going forward. She’s also been used as an attacking midfielder, and it’ll be interesting to see if Moon is still used out wide to try and pin Arin Gilliland back or in midfield to give the club more central attacking spark. Gilliland will do what she does on the left flank. ASU’s going to need to find a way to shut her down, be it through Moon or multiple markers to try and deny UK’s star player opportunities to create.
CF – Farquharson (ASU) vs CBs – Jester/Carter (UK)
Moon’s not the only ASU scoring threat though, as Kentucky will be hard pressed to stop the rampages of Cali Farquharson. Farquharson is one of the nation’s most dynamic center forwards. If you need any evidence of that, just look at the goal she netted in the club’s 1-1 draw against UCLA mid-season. While Kentucky will undoubtedly try and jam her in midfield to keep her as far away from goal as possible, ultimately, it’s going to come down to center-backs Olivia Jester and Alex Carter to stifle Farquharson. But Kentucky is much stronger defensively on the flanks than in the center, making this zone a worry. It’d hardly be surprising if the Wildcats tried some kind of man-marking scheme to get Gilliland to try and limit Farquharson’s contributions. The big unknown? Farquharson’s health after missing most of the NAU match with a hamstring injury. Her status is up in the air, but if she’s out, ASU’s odds of victory decline markedly.
6:00 PM – (2) Virginia vs Rutgers
Rutgers will be hoping that this second round matchup goes a little bit better than their last meeting with Virginia, a 6-0 defeat on this very pitch in 2013. They face what looks like an impossible task on paper in beating a UVA side that magisterially crushed High Point in the opening round, scoring seven goals in thirty-four minutes. Morgan Brian assisted on five goals and added one of her own in a ruthless display of attacking intent. Heavy favorites to advance to the Elite Eight, the Cavs won’t want to skip a beat on the road to Sunday’s Sweet Sixteen showdown with either Kentucky or Arizona State.
Rutgers looked like a team fading at exactly the wrong time going into the NCAA Tournament, having lost four of their last five, including bowing out in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. However, there proved to be enough in the tank to zero out La Salle in the first round, the Scarlet Knights taking an early lead on the A10 champs and never letting up. La Salle’s attack was held to just three shots on goal, while Rutgers kept Kelsey Haycook from netting even one on-target shot. Repeating that feat’s going to be near impossible against Virginia, but the Scarlet Knights will need some of the same cutting edge in front of goal and defensive solidity to pull an upset.
AMC – Brian (UVA) vs DMC – Katkowsi (RUT)
Obviously, if Rutgers can’t find a way to stop Morgan Brian, they’re likely sunk on Friday night. Brian showed why she’s so dangerous in the High Point match in a clinical destruction of the Big South side. Rutgers certainly isn’t High Point, but the sentiment’s the same. The senior is likely to get a heavy dose of double teams and physical treatment from the Scarlet Knights, but much responsibility will fall upon star midfielder Hayley Katkowski. An indefatigable force in the middle of the park, Katkowski will need to play the match of her life to help shut Brian down and slow the offensive tide of the Cavs.
CFs – Ratcliffe/Doniak (UVA) vs CBs – Reed/Skroski (RUT)
One of Friday’s most mouthwatering individual matchups must surely be the tussle between Virginia forward Makenzy Doniak and Rutgers center-back Brianne Reed. Reed really made a big step forward this season as the heart of the Scarlet Knight defense and was a big reason for their early season form. She and fellow junior Erica Skroski have formed a great partnership in central defense but figure to have their hands full against UVA. Doniak has been herself in 2014, AKA one of the nation’s very best forward threats en route to a fifteen goal haul. Rutgers will also have to be wary of the tag team of Brittany Ratcliffe and Morgan Reuther though. Ratcliffe usually starts, while Reuther is a lethal weapon off the bench, the duo combining for seventeen goals. Even if Rutgers slows Brian, reeling in UVA’s center forward scorers won’t be east.
CF – Tiernan (RUT) vs CB – Sonnett (UVA)
Most of the attention ahead of this one has, rightly, been focused on how Rutgers is going to stop the Virginia scoring machine. However, Rutgers is going to need to find offense from somewhere if they’re going to emerge victorious here. While testing the Cavs on the flanks is probably the smartest method of giving UVA’s defense problems, the main matchup is probably going to be between Rutgers’ Madison Tiernan and UVA’s Emily Sonnett. With six goals on fifty-six shots, Tiernan’s not been exceptional this season and faces a touch showdown with Virginia’s only real experienced option in defense in center-back Sonnett. The UVA defensive leader will be expected, again, to lock down another scoring option as Virginia looks to keep it tight at the back.
Who Chris Would Like to See in the Sweet Sixteen:
It’s all about star power. Morgan Brian vs Arin Gilliland in the Sweet Sixteen would be a must see attraction. Kentucky would be a significant underdog but a live one with their superstar left-back leading the way.