After a win over the Florida Gators last weekend, Matthew Mitchell and the UK women’s basketball team are getting back to work for their next SEC matchup. The Cats are set to face Texas A&M at home this Thursday, so Coach Mitchell met with the media Tuesday afternoon to preview the Cats’ matchup with the Aggies.
Here are the main takeaways.
Energy, Effort, Resiliency
Kentucky has won three of its first four conference games so far this season, but Coach Mitchell isn’t over his team’s slow start against South Carolina on January 2, which led to a 99-72 loss for the Cats. Since then, Kentucky (and Rhyne Howard) have been on a hot streak, but another slow start against Florida on Sunday could have been costly. Kentucky ended up pulling away from the Gators, eventually winning by 20 points.
“We just didn’t come out with the competitive fire we need each and every time we take the floor in this conference [against South Carolina],” Mitchell said. “From that, we were able to adjust our attitude and our effort, and we’ve come out with the appropriate energy level. We haven’t been perfect in the past three games, but much better.”
Still, that’s not the kind of start Coach Mitchell wants to see against the Aggies or any other SEC team this season.
“Versus Texas A&M, we’re absolutely going to have to be very energetic and locked in on the things that will be so key in this conference,” Mitchell said.
Even if the shots aren’t falling (for example, when Kentucky started the Florida game 2-11 from the field), the team can’t give up on themselves.
“When everybody is deploying so many resources to try and stop Rhyne [Howard], and you’re taking some really good open shots and they’re not falling, that is really important to stay encouraged there,” Mitchell said. “We took some really good shots against Florida that just didn’t go into the basket.”
Resiliency is key.
Rhyne Howard’s success
Speaking of Rhyne Howard… She finished the Florida game with a cool 22 points, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks, but she didn’t look like her “usual” self (which, as of lately, has meant 30-point performances).
She was held in check by the Gators’ defense, and she’ll be the focus of every opponent going forward; back-to-back SEC Player of the Week nods will do that to you.
During his presser on Tuesday, Coach Mitchell offered a subtle reminder: she is still getting the feel for leading a collegiate basketball team. Sure, she played for the Wildcats last season as a freshman, but she was under the watchful eye of senior veterans Maci Morris and Taylor Murray, who could both challenge Howard in terms of points-per-game. Not this year.
“Coming into this conference season, we knew Rhyne was going to have to be one of those players that stepped forward and tried to be the best scorer on the floor in each game,” Mitchell said. “Her teammates are doing a great job of getting her her the ball and setting her up for success… And she’s doing a good job of, within the framework of the offense, just taking open shots. We’ll need to keep doing that in order to be the team we want to be.”
Defense leads to offense
As previously stated, the Cats did not have their best offensive night against Florida. Not even close. It was the team’s defense that won them the game, and Coach Mitchell specifically referenced Sabrina Haines and Chasity Patterson for their efforts. Haines has been consistent for the Cats all season, whereas Patterson is still getting the hang of things since she became eligible in January.
“She’s really only five games into her season, and I thought she really stepped up and did a better job defensively after sort of a slow start to the Florida game,” Coach Mitchell said of Patterson. “She ended with a lot of defensive energy.”
Like John Calipari has said all season in regard to his own basketball team, defense leads to offense. Sometimes, that needs to be the team’s focus.
“Versus Florida, we were able to turn some really good defensive play into offense. Sometimes when offense isn’t clicking, the best way to get it going is to make a play on the defensive end,” Coach Mitchell said. “We had a few steals then layups in the Florida game, and that can really ignite you and help everybody breathe a little bit easier.”
New WNBA deal is “fantastic development”
News broke Tuesday morning regarding the WNBA’s latest deal with their respective players association. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and WNBA Players Association President Nneka Ogwumike announced on Good Morning America that the two sides have come to terms on an eight-year collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement will mean higher salary for the league’s players, especially the top talent.
Coach Mitchell weighed in on the new deal, saying “it’s another step forward for the sport and certainly for our players who aspire to be professionals.”
“Anytime you can have something positive like that where theres a quality of life increase or a pay increase that is going to allow them to earn more money, that’s a fantastic development,” Mitchell responded. “Our players, I know, are excited to see that. So many of them aspire to be in that league one day, so it’s a great development for women’s basketball.”
For more on the deal itself, check out Bleacher Report’s breakdown here.
You can watch Coach Mitchell’s full comments here, via the KSR YouTube channel.
The Cats will return to Memorial Coliseum to play Texas A&M Thursday. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.