Cats Eager for Opportunity Offered by Tennessee Trip
In women’s college basketball, it doesn’t get much tougher than road games at Mississippi State and Tennessee. Playing those games back-to-back only adds to the challenge.
It’s a challenge Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky Wildcats embrace wholeheartedly.
“Well, I think that’s what they come here for,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s what all the athletes in this great conference, no matter what sport you play in, I think that’s what you want to be a part of. You want to be a part of meaningful games and it is certainly that way in the Southeastern Conference.”
SEC play has opened with a bang for No. 16 UK (14-2, 1-1 SEC), with those aforementioned road trips following the Cats’ home-opening win over Vanderbilt. The game against Mississippi State might have resulted in a loss, but UK’s attitude about playing such difficult games in short order remains unchanged.
“I thought Sunday was an outstanding opportunity for us, and although we did not get the result we wanted – we really wanted to win that game very badly – I thought the players practiced hard physically, and they showed they had desire to win the game,” Mitchell said. “So, now what you have to do with that is you have to take that excitement and focus it. Not only on physical hustle, but mental focus and execution.”
The first thing Mitchell has on his mind on that front, without question, is rebounding. The Cats were overwhelmed by the size and athleticism of the Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi, and the 48-24 deficit in rebounding proves it. The No. 13 Volunteers (12-2, 1-1 SEC) might not be quite as big as Mississippi State, but UK will still need to overcome a disadvantage in size with effort and attention to detail.
“Well, tough game ahead down in Knoxville,” Mitchell said. “It always is a tough place to play. Tennessee has a really good team this year. Very athletic, very explosive. Really tough on the boards, really great in transition offense, some things that really plagued us in the game down in Starkville versus Mississippi State.”
If the chance to improve from their last outing wasn’t enough motivation, the Cats’ also have their rivalry with Tennessee to get them going. UK will be hunting its first win over the Lady Volunteers since January 2016.
“Well, it’s one of those special rivalries, you know, we border each other,” Mitchell said. “In whatever sport it is, we’ve been in the SEC for so long and these games are meaningful. They mean something. In women’s basketball, Coach Pat Summitt did such an awesome job of establishing Tennessee, they’re really the gold standard in women’s college basketball. So, it’s a big game and they’re not only our border rival, but they’re a highly ranked team this year, and it’d be a really awesome road game to get.”
The rivalry, in other words, isn’t the most important thing.
“We’re certainly trying every day to keep the focus on the players that are in the room,” Mitchell said. “As far as where we stand on the national landscape on women’s college basketball, it doesn’t really matter a whole lot in January. There’s just so much basketball to be played, and you’re trying to position yourself to play meaningful games in March and that is really the rhythm of college basketball. So, big game, big opportunity is the way we look at it for Thursday night.”