A professional wrestler known for his finishing move "thump" in the 1980s may turn into an inspiration for the Kentucky women's basketball team as it continues to try to thump Southeastern Conference opponents.
A couple of games ago, after witnessing his team's toughness against Texas A&M, UK Coach Matthew Mitchell developed the "Junkyard Dog Award" to hand out after every game to players who personify "really ferocious and very aggressive" characteristics.
"These last couple games it's been a team of junkyard dogs," Mitchell explained on Wednesday, a day before fifth-ranked Kentucky (16-1, 4-0 SEC) hosts Mississippi State (8-9, 0-4).
The team has had some laughs about the award, which is a piece of paper bearing the growling face of 1980s professional wrestler Sylvester Ritter, also known as the Junkyard Dog.
The award was hanging in each of the players' lockers after the big win over No. 20 Texas A&M a week ago.
"He looks really mean," sophomore Bria Goss said of the wrestling legend.
Senior guard A'dia Mathies cringed visibly when asked about it.
"Yeah, I don't like the picture," she said. "I don't really want to see it, but we keep it up there anyway."
Mitchell hopes it serves as a reminder of the type of team UK will need to be if it wants to keep building on its 15-game win streak and its 31-game win streak at home.
"It's trying to get their mind-set that if we're going to be the best team we're going to be, everyone has to have that mentality that we're just going to try to tear you up on defense and get after you and be ferocious and aggressive," Mitchell said.
When the coach was asked to expound on the award's origins he admitted that Junkyard Dog was one of his favorite wrestlers growing up and noted that JYD named himself after an actual canine guarding a junkyard.
Mitchell took the analysis a step further and discussed his past experiences with junkyard dogs.
"If you're stealing some parts off a car to put some change in your pocket, the junkyard dog does not allow that," he said with a broad smile that may have implied he was kidding. "The junkyard dog is going to tear your tail up if you get in there. ... I'd get up on the fence there and look at that junkyard and I didn't want to get in there with that junkyard dog."
Kentucky has flashed those teeth the past few seasons, forcing 800 or more turnovers the last three seasons (including a national best 939 last season).
This season, UK leads the nation in turnover margin, forcing an average of 10 more (25.5) than they cough up (15.5) per game.
The players seem to get Mitchell's message.
"It's a dog that's real vicious, real nasty," Goss said. "Just have that attitude of a junkyard dog, just to be vicious on defense and offense. To be an all-out type of player."
But the players don't necessarily need to see the growling face of Sylvester Ritter to do as their coach asks.
Mitchell "wants us to do it, but we take pride in it ourselves," Mathies said. "We know that our defense fuels our offense, so just being able to be aggressive on defense as well as on offense helps us out."
Azia Bishop, who fractured a bone in her wrist during the Alabama game, has started practicing in a limited way, but don't expect to see the sophomore forward on the court this week.
"She is progressing but I don't know that she'll play tomorrow night, or Sunday either," Mitchell said. "But I'd love to have her back for South Carolina (Jan. 24). She'd have to really look great in practice for me to put her in. If she did come back she'd have to play with an air cast, but she has progressed very well and we're looking forward to having her back healthy."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com