KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nebraska had the size and experience. Just a 3-hour drive from their campus, the Huskers even had the crowd.
The quickness and athletic ability belonged, however, to Kentucky, and that was all the Wildcats needed to end Nebraska's record-breaking season with a 76-67 victory Sunday night in the Kansas City Regional.
A'dia Mathies scored 21 points and a swarming pressure defense befuddled the top-seeded Huskers all night, propelling the Wildcats into the regional finals Tuesday night against Oklahoma.
"I thought the pace of the game was where we wanted it and it was a big advantage for us," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Kentucky (28-7), extending its school-record win total, opened the second half on an 11-1 run and led by as many as 19 points over the Big 12 champion Huskers, who saw an abrupt end to the most successful season in the history of their own program.
Several thousand red-clad Nebraska fans tried to help fuel a late rally by the Huskers (32-2) when Lindsey Moore's 3-pointer cut the lead to 68-56 with 3:52 to go. But the Wildcats, picked 11th in the Southeastern Conference preseason poll, held on to make their first regional final.
"They came out and got us on our heals," said Nebraska coach Connie Yori. "We just couldn't get back to who we were all season until the latter part of the game."
Dominique Kelley had 22 points for Nebraska and Kelsey Griffin added 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Victoria Dunlop, the SEC player of the year, had 18 points and seven rebounds for Kentucky and Keyla Snowden had 13 points, hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers.
But it was Kentucky's quick, swarming pressure defense that made the difference, especially early. Nebraska knew the Wildcats would harass them with pressure and quickness, but they still had to take shots they did not want to shoot and make passes they did not want to make.
"We knew they were a pressure team," Kelley said. "We did a better job later in the game. But initially in the first 12 or 10 minutes, we didn't handle the pressure very well."
The game plan couldn't have worked out better for the Wildcats, who, like Nebraska, are enjoying the greatest season in school history.
"We try to push the tempo and try and speed every team we play up," said Mathies, a 5-foot-9 freshman guard. "That's part of Kentucky basketball and I think we did a good job of that tonight."
The Wildcats outplayed the Big 12 champs in just about every way, holding a 36-25 rebounding advantage. Each team had 16 turnovers, but many of Kentucky's came in the final minutes when the game had been all but decided.
With a little more than 6 1/2 minutes gone in the second half, it was so bad for the Huskers the Kentucky cheerleaders had put the ball through the hoop almost as many times as they had. Nebraska's only second-half points were a free throw and Lindsey Moore's bucket when a shot by Kentucky curled slowly around, with the ball coming to rest on the back of the rim. Officials declared a held ball and stepped aside while a male Kentucky cheerleader hoisted up one of his female counterparts to retrieve the ball.
As the outnumbered Kentucky fans roared, she picked it up and dropped it through the net.
The Huskers mounted a rally in the final 5 minutes, taking advantage of three Kentucky guards, including Mathies, having four fouls.
Kelley's bucket trimmed the lead to 68-58, but then Dunlop and Mathies scored for the Wildcats.
After a Kentucky turnover, Nebraska's Yvonne Turner missed a 3 and Kentucky's Amani Franklin had a putback to put the Wildcats on top 74-64.
When recalling the greatest season in their history, the Huskers will not look back fondly upon Kansas City. Both losses were here, against Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament in Municipal Auditorium and, 15 days later, to the fast and aggressive Wildcats in the Sprint Center.
"Both teams pressure," said Griffin. "Both teams outrebounded us, and we knew rebounding the ball was going to be important, and taking care of the ball was going to be important."
With Snowden hitting five of her first six shots, the Wildcats went on a 12-4 run early and seized a 31-22 lead. Griffin's three-point play stopped the surge, but then Dunlop hit a 10-footer and Mathies made the defensive play of the night, batting the ball away from the Huskers and hustling down the court for a layup that gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead at 35-25.
"It means a lot to us, just to know that they're a No. 1 seed and we can compete with the best in the country," said Mathies. "It just gives us a lot of confidence knowing that we're still hungry and trying to take it even further."
Another Snowden 3 was followed by Brittany Henderson's three-point play with 1:19 to go, and then Nebraska's Cory Montgomery cut the halftime deficit to 43-34 with two jump shots.
"They did everything we asked of them tonight," said Mitchell. "We just wanted to play with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, a lot of effort. That's been our formula for success all season."