5 Minutes With … Kathi Bennett

By Frank Gogola

The Northern Star sat down with Kathi Bennett, women’s basketball head coach, to talk about how the team’s season ended and what she expects next season. She also gave her thoughts about the men’s and women’s basketball NCAA tournament and No. 1 seed Virginia men’s basketball, where her brother, Tony Bennett, is the head coach.

Northern Star: What do you think about the way your season ended, making it to Cleveland for one game despite losing?

Kathi Bennett: I thought it was great. When we beat Toledo … I think we started to play better. Our goal was to get to Cleveland, and we knew it would take a lot. We then dropped games at Eastern [Michigan] and at Ball State, but we got the Western [Michigan] game and turned it around and then beat Eastern [Michigan] in the first round. It was a good feeling of playing some of our best basketball at the end of the year. We ended up losing to Ball State in Cleveland, but they knocked off No. 1 Bowling Green and made it to the championship game before losing. We hung around with Ball State, and I think it showed how close we are. I know our returners are excited about our future.

NS: When do you plan to start preparing for next season, or have you already begun?

KB: Because we’ve been back for a week, I’ve met with everybody except two players. We’ll get back on court soon with individual instructions and go until finals. So, we’ll give them two weeks off to rest before we start up again.

NS: With your season over, do you plan to attend any men’s basketball NCAA tournament games to watch Virginia?

KB: I’m on the road to Virginia’s game right now. I’ll be in Raleigh for hopefully two games there. Hopefully they’re going to get to the Sweet 16; if they get to that next round, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it. But if they get to the Final Four, I’m there, no question.

NS: Have you looked at the men’s basketball bracket at all, and how far do you think Virginia will advance?

KB: I really haven’t had a chance to look at the bracket. I got a chance to see their game against Duke. Just knowing my brother and how they play and how they defend and how they play together, I’m not picking them to lose. They’re my team.

NS: Do you have a favorite in either the men’s or the women’s basketball NCAA Tournaments to win their respective title?

KB: I love Virginia on the men’s side. On the women’s side, it’s hard to argue with Connecticut and Notre Dame. They both had incredible regular seasons. They’re going to be hard to beat and should meet in the championship game. I’m excited for Akron, who won our conference tournament and got a No. 13 seed. They’ll play No. 4 Purdue; it’s a game they can compete and hopefully get a win for us in the MAC.

NS: Both your Huskies and Tony’s Cavaliers play the pack-line man-to-man defense developed by your dad, legendary coach Dick Bennett. You’ve had some success with that defense here at NIU, but for Tony’s Cavaliers to lead the ACC, a league more known for its offensive prowess, in scoring defense (55.3) and defensive field goal percentage (39 percent), what does that say about the strength of the pack defense?

KB: We’ve been taught and brought up with that defense, and we’ve seen it be successful at every level with our dad. It allows you to compete without top talent, but Tony does have some good players inside who can protect he rim; that’s been proven throughout the [ACC] tournament. Everybody has their own way to defend, but they’re playing at a high level with a group of guys who play together as a team, as a group, and it says everything about basketball being a team game. For me, that’s exciting to see.

NS: This was Tony’s fifth season rebuilding the Virginia Cavaliers. He coached the Cavaliers to a 28-6 record, their first ACC regular season title since 1981, their first ACC tournament title since 1976 and their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since 1983, and he was named the ACC Coach of the Year. Next season will be your fifth rebuilding the Huskies. What is a realistic prediction for you and the Huskies next season?

KB: I’m excited because we have almost everyone back and we’re adding some freshmen. Akron won our league, and that’s the game where we were up five with under 30 seconds and found a way to lose it. I’ve turned a lot of programs around, but it takes time. We’ve had our lapses, but we’ve been in every game, and that’s a positive sign. We have all our starters back and our freshmen saw good minutes last season. We’ll add Lacia Gorman back after she sat out. We’re excited about our future, and our expectation is to compete for a MAC Championship.