Auriemma heaps praise on UK's Mitchell

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2013 

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Geno Auriemma and Matthew Mitchell aren't exactly bosom buddies.

They don't spend tons of time hanging out, but the Connecticut coach had loads of praise for Kentucky's coach before the two teams meet on Monday night.

"I'd say in maybe in the last five or six years, I don't know that anybody's gotten that far that quickly or that anybody's done it better in the country than they have," Auriemma said of UK, who will try to best the Huskies and make the school's first Final Four trip.

Auriemma said people in basketball circles long wondered why UK had struggled to be good for so long. "Any place that's that good at men's basketball should be good at women's basketball," he said.

Mitchell came along at the right time, the UConn coach said.

"He's a good coach; he's a good recruiter and he's at the right place at the right time," Auriemma said of Mitchell, who became the Cats' all-time winningest coach this season after six seasons there.

UK developing into a national power behind the Mitchell-coined "40 minutes of dread" defense was a nice touch, too, the UConn coach added.

"He's carved out his own style," Auriemma said. "He's not trying to be what Florida was. He's not trying to be what Tennessee was. He's just trying to be his own coach with his own program, his own stamp on it."

But Auriemma isn't Auriemma if there isn't a sly dig involved.

The Huskies coach, who has to face UK for a second straight time to get to the Final Four, lamented that Mitchell isn't more like the coach across the hall from him at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington.

"I do wish that Matthew was more like Coach Cal in that his players would leave," Auriemma said of John Calipari, a friend of his. "I wish those guys weren't back for another year. ... He needs to learn some tips from Cal and get those kids to leave after a year so I don't have to put up with that again this year."

'A juggling act'

It has been a surreal week for Kentucky assistant coach Matt Insell.

The 30-year-old coach left to help coach Kentucky in the Bridgeport Regional the same day he officially was named the new head coach at Ole Miss.

"It hasn't fully sunk in because my focus is here," said Insell, who now carries two phones with him on the road, one for Ole Miss business and one for UK business. "It's been a juggling act."

But he isn't quite ready to completely dive into the new gig just yet.

"I want an extra week with Kentucky," he said with a smile.

And his new players at Ole Miss seem to understand.

"The kids down there all texted me after the (Delaware) game that they're excited and they're all cheering for Kentucky," he said. "They want Kentucky to win. It's like they're trying to live through what's going on here and it excites me that they're excited about that."

Kentucky road rage?

For the second straight year, Kentucky is having to face Connecticut in the region finals at a location within driving distance to the Huskies' campus.

In fact, UConn and its fans haven't had to leave the state so far in the NCAA Tournament, with the first two games at home and the next two some 76 miles away in Bridgeport. The crowd at Webster Bank arena for the semifinals on Saturday was at least 80 percent Huskies faithful and probably will be even more so on Monday night.

But Mitchell and his team aren't bothered. They recalled big road wins this season over teams like Louisville, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

"It's just like any road game," Mitchell said. "You have to perform well. We've won a bunch of games on the road in the past. It's the same thing: You have to make plays so the crowd doesn't become a factor in the game."

A family feud?

Junior guard Kastine Evans is at Kentucky and playing UConn on Monday. Her older brother, R.J. Evans, played for the Huskies' men program this past season as he worked on his master's degree.

But make no mistake, R.J. is cheering for his kid sister over the school he has been attending for the past year. He's even wearing a T-shirt with her picture on it.

"He's always been my biggest supporter no matter what," Evans said of her brother. "He texted me after the (Delaware) game that he was so proud of me that he went in his room and started crying. You don't see that much, but that's how much he supports me, how much he's always wanted greatness for me."

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