Finally getting healthy, 5-0 UK women look to U of L

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 2, 2010 

Imagine trying to put together a high-powered, turbo-charged engine and trying to make it run at high speeds for long periods of time with two or three spark plugs missing.

Coach Matthew Mitchell has been doing just that, trying to piece together a well-oiled machine without some key parts the past few games.

First, starting guard Keyla Snowden missed a game with a knee injury. Then starting forward Samantha Drake went out for two games with a knee bruise.

Then it was senior All-American Victoria Dunlap missing nearly two games after bumping her head on the hardwood in Mississippi.

Somehow, despite the absent parts, ninth-ranked UK has sputtered, but never stalled, the coach said.

"I've been really proud of our players, of how people have chipped in and played many different positions and fought really hard to get us off to this start," Mitchell said.

Kentucky is 5-0 heading into a dangerous game with Louisville on Sunday. The Cardinals have played two top-10 teams close and they will likely have a loud crowd at the newly christened KFC Yum Center.

This makes Mitchell all the more pleased that he's got most of his moving parts back in working order.

On Wednesday, Dunlap practiced for the first time since last week. Drake is back, but still a little sore.

Mitchell was pleased to see 12 players back at practice. "We look a lot different when we have everybody," he said.

A'dia Mathies, the only UK player to start all five games this season, is excited by the prospect of having the parts back in place.

"We've got a lot of talent and a lot of potential," she said Wednesday. "Once we start playing all together and we start clicking, we could be a real dangerous team. ... We could do some big things."

The setbacks might prove to be a boost down the road, at least Mitchell hopes so.

"There's some benefit in the young players seeing that if they will work hard and do the right things, that even if something bad happens to us, we can possibly absorb it and keep on going," he said.

Many players have been playing out of position. Many have been playing a lot of minutes in a demanding style of play.

But being out there has given some of the younger players confidence.

"Every situation you're in you have to find the opportunity that exists and that's how we chose to get through these first few games," he said.

Freshman guard Maegan Conwright is spending a lot of time at point guard, which isn't her natural position, and she's thrived, averaging 9.6 points. In five games she has 13 assists and only four turnovers. Fellow freshman Kastine Evans is averaging more than four rebounds from her guard spot.

Drake said it's been frustrating sitting on the bench during big games, but the freshman likes what she sees coming together for UK.

Maybe the Cats will find another gear.

"Hopefully with everyone healthy again, we can take this team to another level," she said.

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