Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell looks to solve Baylor and Brittney Griner

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 11, 2012 

APTOPIX NCAA Georgia Tech Baylor Basketball

Baylor center Brittney Griner dunked during the NCAA women's tournament regional semifinal against Georgia Tech in March. Baylor returns all five starters from its national championship team.

CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP

  • Women's SEC Tournament

    Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Missouri winner
    When: 6 p.m. Friday
    TV/Radio: SportsSouth/WLAP-AM 630

Matthew Mitchell is a man on an island.

As he tries to prepare his Kentucky team for a big game on an even bigger stage against the game's biggest player, he is all alone.

"I have no one to call who had any success against them last year," Mitchell said last week when asked about Kentucky taking on top-ranked Baylor. "They went 40-0, so I can't call anyone to ask how to beat them."

Beating Baylor on its home floor in the State Farm Tipoff Classic on Tuesday night will be a tall order, literally.

The Bears boast the nation's Player of the Year in 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.

"We haven't see anyone like her in the women's game before, and I don't think I'll see another player like her in my lifetime," ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. "She is that unique. She's that dominant."

But Griner's not alone.

Baylor returns all five starters (90.4 percent of their scoring and 86.8 percent of their rebounding) for a team that seemingly won NCAA Tournament games with its eyes closed, by an average margin of 20.8 points.

"They didn't win a national championship because they have the most dominant force in women's basketball," Lobo continued. "They have that but they won because they were the best team as well."

Kentucky, coming into the season ranked No. 6, has a pretty good team, too. The Cats, who won the Southeastern Conference last season, return a large chunk of their offense and add three McDonald's All-Americans back to the mix.

Just getting to play Baylor in this prestigious game, which is coupled with the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and will be broadcast on ESPN2, is a big boost for Kentucky.

"It is a huge deal for us to be in this game," Mitchell said. "It's a visible sign, a tangible sign of the progress we've made in the program. Our goal is to be the best and to be in an atmosphere where you get to be showcased in this type of environment."

Winning the SEC was an important first step for UK to build itself into one of the national elite, but winning a game like the one on Tuesday night in Waco would be huge.

"We want to be in games like this," Mitchell continued. "For Kentucky it's very, very big. ... This is a big, big moment for our program."

Lobo, the ESPN analyst, agreed. These games used to be reserved for SEC powers like Tennessee and Louisiana State.

But it's Kentucky's turn now.

"You don't ever want to put too much stock into a game this early in the season, but it's going to show where their program is, that they're considered one of the elite teams," Lobo said.

Because it's a game with two of the nation's top teams and because it's just two games into the regular season, it might not be the most attractive game, Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey cautioned on Thursday.

"I just know that it's going to be a heckuva basketball game early in the season," Mulkey said. "Now, when I say heckuva basketball game, I don't mean it's going to be pretty. When you've got a team that presses and a team that's talented (Kentucky), and you've got a team who's the defending national champion (Baylor), they're both going to be playing hard."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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