QUEENS, N.Y. — Kentucky's post players are not soft.
Assistant coach Shalon Pillow has purple and yellow marks up and down her body to prove it.
"The bruises are going away," the 6-foot-4 former Tennessee star said, sliding her shirt sleeves up. "I still have a couple here and there."
After the Cats lost in the title game of the Southeastern Conference championship game, head coach Matthew Mitchell pledged to make his players tougher.
"We're going to the paint, we're at the rim; it's real, real physical and we just can't get the ball in the basket," Mitchell said after the loss to Texas A&M. "I'll be working on that the next week or so."
Kentucky McDonald's All-American post tandem of Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth were ineffective against the Aggies, going a combined 5-for-17 from the field.
So in many ways, Pillow's bruises came courtesy of bruised egos.
"Both of their personalities, they're not going to pout about what coach said," Pillow said Monday, a day before Kentucky faces Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Carnesecca Arena. "They take offense to it, and that's a great thing. It really got them going."
Both Walker and Stallworth were impressive inside against Navy in the opening game. Stallworth, despite playing with a stomach virus (how's that for toughness?) managed game highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds, her first double-double since the middle of February.
Walker scored 14 points, her most since Feb. 7, and grabbed six rebounds.
"They played with a lot of energy yesterday, looked like they were focused on getting rebounds and being more aggressive offensively," Pillow said.
Stallworth said knowing that she could've done more in that SEC championship game motivated her in the nearly two weeks between that and the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"It was a tough loss," Stallworth said. "We all just tried to refocus and get our minds right and know that we have another opportunity — our last opportunity — to try to win a championship. All of our minds are on straight."
Their minds are on straight in part because of some tough love from Pillow, who decided to get in the lane and mix it up with her players. In drill after drill, she pushed them off the block, bumped them hard as they drove to the basket, did whatever she could to make them play more physically.
"I'm larger than probably anyone they've faced," she said. "They're slamming into me, reposting, kicking out."
It wasn't always an easy task for the UK assistant coach. "They're spring chickens and I'm not anymore," the 33-year-old said. "I'm not in playing shape like they are."
In the past two weeks, Mitchell said he's seen significant growth in Walker, Stallworth and several of UK's frontcourt reserves.
"They're getting deeper position, getting better position, playing with more poise down there," he said. "I've seen a much tougher presence in the post."
He will get to see how much growth on Tuesday night against Dayton (28-2), which has some size inside with 6-foot-4 sophomore Ally Malott (10.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-3 junior Cassie Sant (7.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and 6-foot senior Olivia Applewhite (7.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
"Dayton's strength is they have a high level of skill and have some good ball handlers," he said. "And they have some pretty long and athletic posts. It's a tough matchup."
Kentucky vs. Dayton
When: 7:15 p.m. TV: ESPN2
Where: Queens, N.Y.
Records: UK 28-5; Dayton 28-2
Series: UK leads 12-3
Last meeting: UK won 73-69 at home on Dec. 6, 1997
Radio: WLXG-AM 1300
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: UKwomen.bloginky.com.