Every time Coach Mitchell’s squad takes the court against Coach Amanda Butler’s Florida Gators, you know it’s gonna be a good one. It has turned into one of the best games year in and year out in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats have left victorious against the Gators the past six times the teams have met, but have won the past five meetings by an average margin of just four points. Coach Mitchell doesn’t expect Sunday’s game to be any different, as one of the SEC’s best scorers Jaterra Bonds leads the Gators into Lexington with an 11-3 record (1-0 SEC) riding a seven game winning streak.
I’ve covered the Kentucky women’s basketball team now for two years, and there are no games I enjoy more than when Florida comes to town. You know you’ll be in for a nail biting, grind it out, last second affair, and that’s just how it goes. Not to mention, Florida’s Coach Amanda Butler is one of the most entertaining personalities I’ve had the chance to be around on the sideline. She stomps, yells, claps…and stomps some more….and I love it.
At the end of the past few seasons, Kentucky and Florida have not been very near each other in the final standings of the SEC, with Kentucky nearing the top and Florida lingering around the middle and bottom, yet the games continue to be close. When asked why, Mitchell thinks it’s because the tough, pressure defense from Kentucky is actually a benefit to Florida. “The kind of defense we play, [matched with] the kind of players they have always makes for a tough, tough game.” Mitchell lauded the guard play of the Gators, who are not afraid to push and attack the Cats and have the ability to both shoot the outside ball and feed the post inside.
The status of UK’s leading scorer DeNesha Stallworth is still up in the air following her arthroscopic surgery nearly four weeks ago. “Our goal is to try to work her back in the first chance she can play. And so if that’s Sunday, that’d be great. But I would think her first game back is going to be a process of trying to get in there and we’ll kind of see what we have. Even if she were back Sunday, I still think the team’s mindset has to prepare for her role to possibly not be that big, which means we have to do what we’ve been working on and we have to be successful without her,” commented Mitchell.
In Kentucky’s five games played sans Stallworth there have been five different leading scorers. Scoring for this Kentucky team can literally come from any position on the floor, and it remains a toss up night in and night out as to who will have an on night on offense. Six Wildcats currently average double-figures including the absent Stallworth, Kastine Evans, Bria Goss, Janee Thompson, Samarie Walker and Jennifer O’Neill. With the hunger for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament on the minds of all those related to the UK Hoops program, winning the SEC is imperative. After Tennessee’s conference opening loss, Kentucky already has a one game lead over the predicted champions, and needs to hold serve at home. Each game in the SEC is an absolute battle, as all teams are talented and vying for spots in the big dance.
Kentucky’s replacement in the starting lineup for Stallworth has been junior Azia Bishop. Bishop is averaging nearly seven points a game, and while Mitchell says he doesn’t put any emphasis on who starts or who comes of the bench, Bishop admitted that the new starting job has come with a different mindset. “I know I have to go out there and play hard, getting in the stance, and finishing strong,” said Bishop. One of the biggest flaws in her game this season have been her poor free throw shooting numbers, and she says Mitchell has placed heavy emphasis on those in practice, making everyone shoot 100 each day, with Bishop staying after to shoot even more.
Sunday afternoon could be a milestone victory for Kentucky, as the Wildcats are looking for their 700th win all-time in program history. With an all-time record of 699-478, the Cats look to make yet another record in it’s 40th season of varsity play. The team has undergone rapid growth as you know under Mitchell, who in just seven seasons is already responsible for 157 of those wins.
Live diary coming your way at 3 right here on KSR. Televised live on CSS. Be there.