UK women don't have much time to regroup

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJanuary 6, 2014 

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said his team's uneven effort this season is "really disheartening for me."

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  • Thursday

    Kentucky at South Carolina

    When: 7 p.m.

Stoic stares gazed into the Memorial Coliseum bleachers, but not at anyone in particular.

Some eyes stared blankly at the floor instead.

Either way, Kentucky players found it hard to watch as Florida became the first unranked team to upset the Cats on their home floor in two years.

The 83-73 loss to a Gators team UK had beaten six straight times dropped the Cats from No. 6 in the Associated Press poll to No. 9 on Monday.

But there is little time for Kentucky to feel sorry for itself with a game at No. 10 South Carolina (14-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) next on the schedule Thursday night.

Unlike the Cats' only other loss of the season to Duke — a game UK's players and coaches could analyze and break down over the holiday break — UK has just a couple of days to fix the problems.

Without naming names, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell seemed to question the desire of some in the locker room.

"The people that have passion and energy have been trying to have passion and energy all year," he said. "We have an inconsistency on our team of that. It's really disheartening for me."

Senior guard Kastine Evans said it's on each and every player in a blue jersey to decide how much she's willing to sacrifice.

"We have voices on the team," she said when asked who would be the person to pull the team together in time to face the Gamecocks, who have won five in a row.

"It's whether we choose to listen to those voices and pull together as a team or ... everybody is separate by themselves," Evans continued. "It's a decision each and every one of us is going to have to make if we're going to pull together after a tough loss and make it something where we battle together."

Practices are guaranteed to get more difficult after the loss for Kentucky (13-2, 1-1).

A UK team that managed just one field goal in the final 13 minutes on Sunday versus Florida is going to have to find answers quickly against one of the stingiest defenses in the nation.

Only five of the Gamecocks' 15 opponents have managed to score 60 points or more this season. South Carolina is holding opponents to 33.4 percent shooting and 49.7 points a game, third best in the nation.

The Gamecocks are leading the league and are fourth in the nation in blocked shots at 6.4 a game.

It isn't going to just be a challenge on that end of the floor either, with the Gamecocks seemingly built to compete against Kentucky's waves of players and aggressive defense with 13 players averaging 12 minutes or more a game.

South Carolina is hitting a league-high 48.9 percent from the field and is turning the ball over just 13.4 times a game.

The Gamecocks are making more free throws (276) than opponents have even attempted (204) so far this season.

"Will we fight or will it be something where we let down?" Evans asked out loud after the Florida loss. "That's all personal decisions."

Problems that plagued the Cats in the loss to Florida on Sunday were the same problems that hurt them in their loss 55-50 loss at South Carolina last season.

The Gamecocks were more aggressive and physical, and UK responded with three different six-minute field goal droughts. USC Coach Dawn Staley convinced her team that the way to beat the Cats was by being more physical.

"One of the keys was you have to hit first because we knew we were going to get hit," she said at the end of last January. "It's always these knock down, drag out games with Kentucky."

It promises to be another one on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks are 9-0 and beating teams by an average of 33 points.

Kentucky is going to figure out quickly what kind of intestinal fortitude it has, likely starting with practices this week.

"I've got to figure that out and figure out how to get the team to sharpen up and see if they're motivated," Mitchell said Sunday, "see if we can forge ahead and bounce back."


Thursday

Kentucky at South Carolina

When: 7 p.m.

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

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